by Pip Holloway
The Volvo Gill Optimist Inland Championships were held at Grafham Water Sailing Club over the 19th and 20th May 2012. Over 300 young sailors battled it out this weekend at the annual event. In typical British summer style the sun didn’t quite reach Grafham Water, but instead sailors were faced with a tricky day with just 5-8 knots of breeze to open the event.
Volvo Gill Optimist Inland Championships 2012
There were a record number of black flags in the first two races of the day, keeping the race committee on their toes. To the sailors delight, the wind filled in by race three on Saturday and remained a constant 12-14 knots for the duration of Sunday. Principle Race Officer David Campbell-James commented 'Saturday was very difficult especially for those with less experience, but Sunday was perfect conditions with 10-14 knots, racing got underway without a hitch and we had 6 great races.' With the forecast set for close to no wind all weekend, the actual conditions allowed 11 races to be completed by the Regatta fleet and 12 races by the Main fleet.
David Labrouche - Volvo Gill Optimist Inland Championships 2012
In the Main fleet Optimist European Team member David Labrouche, 14, from Dabchicks Sailing Club took an early lead and stayed dominant to go onto win the event. This was not without Optimist World Team sailor Max Clapp (Royal Southern YC) hot on his heels. He finished just four points behind in second. 'It was awesome; it was tense in the last race as on count back there wasn’t much in it, but I managed to secure the lead after the second to last race today [Sunday]- we were so lucky with the wind.' said event winner David Labrouche.
Jenny Cropley - Volvo Gill Optimist Inland Championships 2012
The girls displayed equally impressive talent with the main competition between European Team members Jenny Cropley (RLymYC) and Sarah Norbury (South Staffs SC). At the end of day one only three points separated the pair with Jenny just taking the advantage. Jenny pulled out all the stops in the last race of the event scoring a second place, securing her position in the final results as first girl and third overall. Jenny commented 'I’m really pleased to have come first girl, it was quite shifty today and was tough racing.'
Close behind Jenny with only a point between them was European Team sailor Daniel Whitely (Port Dinoreic) in fourth place, who sailed well and had a consistent event.
Haydn Sewell. Photo Credit Peter Newton - Volvo Gill Optimist Inland Championships 2012
The regatta fleet were also put to the test this weekend with the tricky conditions. Haydn Sewell, 9, (Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Isle of Wight) dominated with a confident lead through to the final day winning his first event. Second place was Phoebe Le Marquand, 10 (St Catherine’s) and Poole Yacht Club’s James Foster finished the event in third.
Despite chilly temperatures, morale amongst the sailors remained high and there were smiles all round. Nick Gill, director of Official clothing supplier Gill commented 'It’s so great to see so many children enjoying sailing; the Optimist is such a big fleet and is growing. There is so much enthusiasm, which for us as a brand of sailing is really important to see. The weather isn’t great, but it doesn’t seem to put anyone off and its lots of opportunity for us to kit people out and keep them warm and dry!'
One of Britain’s leading Paralympics sailors, Niki Birrell took time out of his busy training schedule to make an appearance at the event taking to the water offering coaching advice and sailing tips to the competitors. He finished the day with an inspirational talk focussing on his sailing career and how he overcame cerebral palsy to progress through the RYA Youth programme to become four times Skud 18 World Champion and a strong medal contender this summer. 'I had a great weekend at the Volvo Gill Inland Championships. There was some great racing and there really is some top sailing talent in the Optimist Class. It was inspiring for me to get out and watch the racing first hand.' said Team Volvo Sailor Niki.
Whilst the young competitors, several participating at their first championship event, were busy racing at Grafham Water some of the country’s top medal hopefuls and former Optimist sailors were busy making history. Triple Olympic gold and silver medallist, Ben Ainslie who won the Optimist National Championships in 1993 claimed his sixth Finn World Champion title in Falmouth and had the honour of starting the Olympic torch relay. Over in Barcelona 2003 Optimist Girls World Champion, Hannah Mills who competes with experienced Olympian Saskia Clark also made history as the first British 470 Women's duo to become World Champions.
Both performances are a true inspiration for the aspiring young Optimist sailors. IOCA UK Chairman, Simon Rogers commented ‘the weekend has been fantastic- we were fortunate with the conditions and it has been a great celebration of sailing. Hannah Mill’s performance in Barcelona and Ben Ainslie’s performance in Falmouth are hugely inspiring for all the sailors here. With the great sailing here this weekend we definitely have more stars in the making to follow in their footsteps!’
The next UK National event on the Optimist calendar is the Volvo Gill National Open British Championships, to be held at Pwllheli Sailing Club from 13th -17th August 2012, attracting around 500 Optimist sailors from around the globe.
International Optimist Class Association UK website