Two Olympic silver medallists are set to take on West Kirby Sailing Club’s home team plus other top teams from across the UK, USA and Ireland, as the world’s largest team racing event, the British Open Team Racing Championship for the Wilson Trophy, is hosted by West Kirby Sailing Club over Bank Holiday weekend (3-5 May).
Amongst the 34 teams entered, the hot contenders for the Trophy win include special guest entry, British Sailing Team, fronted by 2012 Olympic silver medallists in the men’s 470 class, Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell. The duo also have silver medals from World and European 470 Championships under their belts, and are both 2016 Rio Olympic hopefuls.
Explaining his motivation for entering the event, Bithell says: 'The Wilson Trophy is an event I used to do as a crew when I was very young and I loved every minute. Now we are going there to improve our knowledge of the rules and how we can use them to our advantage in fleet racing.'
Despite their outstanding fleet racing CVs, the pair is under no illusion that the event will be an easy ride. Patience says: 'Given that we rarely team race, it’s impossible to tell how well we will do. I am sure we will be targeted hard by the team racing world and shown how it’s done!'
Patience and Bithell will be joined by third helm, Christian Birrell, who boasts National Championship wins in several classes, and is a former Endeavour Trophy winner.
Birrell competed at the UK Team Racing Championships also held at West Kirby Sailing Club in March and despite the weather was so enthused by the club and the competition that he was determined to come back for the Wilson Trophy with his Olympic friends. He says: 'When I was invited to do UKTRA, I became a total convert to team racing. I’ve always listened to friends talk about the excitement in the build up to the Wilson Trophy and the tales which follow, and now I get that excitement!'
This talented trio forms the back-bone of the six-person team, with Lib Manser, Bethan Carden and a ‘special guest’ completing the line-up as crews.
The British Sailing Team will face particularly fierce competition this year, as the home team and current ISAF Team Racing World Champions, West Kirby Hawks, seek to defend their 2012 trophy win. Other contenders include the current UK National Team Racing Champions, Spinnaker Auspicious; as well as Royal Thames Yacht Club, Southampton Male Voice Choir, Grafham Sailing Club, Itchenor Sailing Club, Royal Forth Hoosiers and two other local West Kirby teams.
From overseas, New York Yacht Club’s team has traditionally presented a strong challenge and is predicted to do so again this year. A team from Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Pistols, should also feature in the mix, along with three strong Irish teams representing Royal Cork, Royal St George and Howth Yacht Clubs.
Also competing will be several university teams, including recent BUSA winners, Bristol. Two school teams are also taking part in the form of RYA Youth Team Racing Champions, Magdalen College, and Schull Community College from Ireland who won the Under 21 category at the Wilson Trophy last year.
With so many top sailors vying to earn those all-important places in the quarters, semis and ultimately, the final, all eyes will be on West Kirby as the teams battle their way through the event’s Swiss League format.
Commodore of West Kirby Sailing Club, David Taylor, says: 'West Kirby Sailing Club is delighted to welcome our Olympic medallists to take part in this year’s Wilson Trophy. The Wilson trophy is renowned for its very special atmosphere; and this is a fantastic opportunity to come and watch some of the world’s finest sailors in action and to cheer on our Olympic heroes. This year promises a truly thrilling line-up.'
The Wilson Trophy is the largest event of its kind in the world; now in its 64th year, the three-day team racing extravaganza takes place in the unique amphitheatre formed by West Kirby’s Marine Lake.
With a premium on boat handling and close-quarters tactics, races are short and action-packed, taking place just metres away from the shore. The promenade and sea wall form ideal vantage points for spectators, with live commentary and grandstand seating, and flights of equally-matched colour-coded Fireflies, making the action easy to follow.
Racing takes place over three days, beginning at noon on Friday and at 8am on Saturday and Sunday. The finals are scheduled to commence at 2pm on Sunday.
Wilson Trophy website