During the second to last week of the summer term, six students from Seaford College competed in the Schools Week Sailing Championships, which has been held annually at Itchenor Sailing Club since 1953. It is one of the biggest school sailing events in the UK, and attracts teams from across the country, and this year attracted entries of over 150 racing dinghies. Paul Harker, who took the students to the competition, told us about the event.
The school sailing club was set up in 2016, following on from Oliver Randall-May and Thomas Lawson, (who were then in Year 7), entering Schools Week on behalf of the school in their RS Feva racing dinghy, the previous year. They represented Seaford again for this event in 2016, and in October of the same year, and following this the school entered a team of five boats into the WSSYSA regatta at Chichester Yacht Club. Following a second summer of race training, this year a team of three boats was entered into Itchenor Schools Week.
Whilst one other member of the team, Isobel Porter, had competed previously in this event too, this had also been in the RS Feva class (open to Yrs 7 to 10). However, this year we were entering in one of the classes for the older age groups (Yrs 10 to 13, and experienced Yr 9s), and this time racing Firefly dinghies, against 16 other schools, including several who are very well known for sailing. Despite being an old design, the Firefly is the most popular racing dinghy for schools and universities. We had six students entered – Oliver Randall-May, Thomas Lawson & William Greaves (now in Year 10, Sebastian Ellingsen & Lily Henderson (now in Year 11) and Isobel Porter (now in Year 13). Oh, and just to make it more exciting, as school sailing is in other dinghies, this was also going to be their first experience sailing Fireflies…!
Weather conditions were not ideal, with light wind on all three days, which made the race officers’ job frustrating, however they did an excellent job and it was definitely a great experience for the team. William’s reaction to his first experience of Schools Week sums it up well: “Sailing in Schools Week was how I expected it to be – but I had imagined a bit more wind! It was amazingly well organised and it was great to be representing Seaford. We were all a bit anxious about sailing Fireflies – as they were new boats for us all. It was a shame that we didn’t get a chance to get used to them, as many of the school have their own boats that they have sailed and trained in.”
Despite the conditions, boats fighting mercilessly for the most advantageous place on the packed start line, and jostling for the best line when rounding the marks still made for very exciting racing. The small amount of wind meant that every effort made to maintain boat speed was vital. Sometimes success came down to making the correct judgment call on tactical decisions, such as which side of the channel to take, as the wrong decision could easily mean being swept backwards by the tide. On several occasions, being in the right place at the right time to catch a gust would enable a boat to leap by forward several places, especially up the beat to the windward mark. Above all though, it was a great test of teamwork between helm and crew, not only physically, but also mentally. as Isobel described it: “The week itself was challenging as the weather was not on our side. The little wind definitely tested my patience and I learnt a lot in how to keep 100% concentration when you are barely moving or slowly drifting backwards.” Oliver added, “I usually sail a Topper and so I was a little apprehensive to jump into a different boat – a Firefly which I had never sailed before and with a new crew. However, we soon got to grips with it. Teamwork was a massive thing I took from the experience, my crew (Isobel) and I worked very well together and managed to stay calm and focused at all times on the water managing to race well.”
The overall results, out of 46 boats in the fleet, were 33rd for Oliver & Isobel, 43rd for Thomas & William, and 45th for Sebastian & Lily, with best individual race results of 13th, 36th and 36th places respectively. A good showing, especially since this was the first experience for all of them in this class of dinghy, making the 13th by Oliver & Isobel especially impressive, and for Sebastian & Lily, this was also their second ever competitive event, and their first time ever racing in such a large fleet. “I really enjoyed schools week, it was much bigger than I expected which made it a better experience” said Lily. “I learned that sailing in a large fleet of boats wasn’t as hard as I imagined it to be, you just had to be careful on the start line to not crash into someone and get a penalty.”
The experience gained will stand them all in good stead for next year, and most importantly, all really enjoyed the event. The reactions afterwards from several members of the team sum it up well: “I think that one of the best things about the event was the fact that even though we were not in the lead we were always able to have fun. I am looking forward to sailing a Firefly next time because it will be a lot easier as we now have a bit of experience in them,” said Thomas. Oliver also had similar thoughts. “I am very much looking forward to sailing a Firefly again hopefully next year. Although I do not normally sail a two handed boat I really do enjoy it and have lots of fun.” William agreed. “Overall it was a fantastic experience – although totally exhausting!”
We are already looking forward to next year, and for anyone interested in competing in sailing in the future Isobel had this advice. “What I would say to someone going to compete in the future is to definitely think about how the boat will react to different wind conditions and how you will need to set your boat up for that. It was a truly fun and exciting experience and I would love to be able to compete in this event next year and will keep aiming higher to get the best results we can.”
In addition to a very big thank you to Itchenor Sailing Club and their team for organising a fantastic event, we would also like to thank Sarah Ayton OBE for her advice and support in getting sailing started as an activity here at Seaford, along with Bosham Sailing Club, where we have also been race training, and finally to all parents for their support in helping to make this happen!
A fantastic event, and it’s good to see that sailing at Seaford is going from strength to strength. If you’re interested in getting involved in sailing at Seaford, contact Paul Harker.