Sunday, 9 January 2011

The 60th Anniversary Wilson Trophy (Team Racing, England): Sailing's Premier League

Close racing at the Wilson Trophy 2010. Image copyright Phil Shepherd.

by Wilson Trophy media

200 Olympic-class sailors compete annually on West Kirby’s marine amphitheatre in one of the World’s favourite events for three days in May.

Five thousand spectators and thousands on the web follow 300 short, sharp frenzied races in three-boat teams jostling on an area of a football field to earn the coveted title: "Wilson Trophy Champion".

For this is team racing; this is the balletic cousin of a venerable sport.

Frantic and frenetic, the sailors spin breath-taking skills caressing their boats through a needle's eye within a hair’s breadth of touching at grand-prix speeds.

All powered by nature’ s winds and the will-to-win. Right in front of your eyes.

Survival Guide to the Wilson Trophy: 60th Anniversary 6-8 May 2011

by Steve Cleland

Close racing at the Wilson Trophy 2010. Image copyright Phil Shepherd.

Some would say that getting an entry into the Wilson Trophy is the hardest part of the team racing year... and it almost is.

That is, however, until you get to the event. It is then that you realise the magnitude of this, the most prestigious team racing event anywhere in the world.

Don’t be put off by the above, for once you have an entry and have forged your way by land, sea or air to the Wirral peninsula, your efforts will be repaid in full. Everyone takes something away from the event – Olympic sailor to club sailor alike.

Those that have been fortunate enough to have competed in this event will tell of similar experiences to the ones I recount here.

The uniqueness of the Wilson Trophy and everything that encompasses the whole weekend makes it a magical event. You will be met by the most hospitable of people (and I’m not just referring to the bar staff). Club members welcome teams into their homes to accommodate them during the event and there are always members around only too happy to help or just to chat.

Friday night is registration and the all-important draw for the first races….. For those who follow football you can liken this to the FA Cup draw – the chance of non leaguers drawing a Premier League team (if you don’t know football think Kristina Rihanoff being paired with John Sergeant on Strictly Come Dancing – a surprise pairing but one that enhances the event). The computerised Swiss League format that is used means you are always sailing teams of the same standard – if you win, you’ll sail another winning team. If you lose, you’ll sail a similar losing team.

There are two intensive days of this – the first start each day is 8am (which has been known to catch those out who have enjoyed the previous night’s conversation at the bar a little too much!). The number of races that are run on the first day are staggering – in excess of 170 races is not uncommon in the ten hours sailed. Prepare yourselves for a long day of jumping in and out of flights, lying around the slipway and being looked at quizzically by Joe Public for wearing your sailing kit.

Once your last race of the day is done – run... And I mean run. For those who like to have a few hours to prepare themselves and turning a wet, bedraggled sailor into the envy of the evening I would advise some serious practice in getting this down to under an hour from coming ashore. Adorn your team colours and then get down to the club (feel free to stop at the bank on the way).

Upon entering the Great Hall, or Boat Shed as it is commonly referred to, take your seat amongst your fellow competitors, umpires, members and friends. Remember always to charge your team’s glasses – it won’t do having an empty glass when you may be called upon to defend your team’s honour in a table race. Where you might have been beaten on the water, you now have the chance to get your revenge.

It’s usually at this point of the evening where a team’s intentions can be truly seen. There are the teams that have over-performed on the water who celebrate but think they shouldn’t over do it and waste a good start. There are those that have a had the worst ties possible and decide that the only remedy lies at the bottom of a glass as things can’t get worse and there are the rest who fit within the two extremes. There will always be exceptions and they know who they are...

As it is the 60th Anniversary this year and the event is three days – prepare yourself for a repeat of day one.

Close racing at the Wilson Trophy 2010. Image copyright Phil Shepherd.

The final day is always a tense affair – every team trying to get on to a winning run before the cut off to get into the quarter finals. You’ll be amazed how many teams will be on the same number of wins for the last place and the back count begins to separate them. The contribution of those not good enough to get through has not finished – a seat in the grandstand or on the rocks will give a perfect vantage point for these knockout stages. Those still in will receive support from the shore in this amphitheatre, unparalleled within the sailing world. The commentary coupled with the cheers from the stands carries across the marine lake attracting many to stop and wonder what is going on... if we knew that we would still be sailing!

After a long weekend having sailed hard and played hard, a worthy team will be crowned. Their name will be mentioned in future years along with the great teams who have not only won the Wilson Trophy but who have also sailed in this event over the last 60 years.

Over the course of the weekend you will probably miss how the whole event is brought together with military precision by the many members who give up their free time - 12 months in the making, culminating in a few days of fantastic sailing to which a sailor only has to turn up. When you see members around the club - let on to them as they are the unsung heroes who make all of this possible.

You will be lucky this year for the day after the event finishes is a Bank Holiday. If it wasn’t for this you should book a day’s holiday or at least rearrange any meetings to another day. Well done, you have survived the Wilson Trophy.

Take my advice, you’ve just been part of something special and I recommend you ask for an entry for next year.


Close racing at the Wilson Trophy 2010. Image copyright Phil Shepherd.

To enter the Wilson Trophy - the world's premier team racing competition - click here Entries must be received by 13th February 2011.

Wilson Trophy