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English Open Challenger Championships at Oxford Sailability and Oxford Sailing Club

by Marion Edwards 26 May 2023 01:31 PDT 20-21 May 2023
Nicholas Bishop at the helm (with Gareth acting as 'buddy') - English Open Challenger Championships at Oxford © Tom Stavers

Seventeen Challengers had gathered at Oxford Sailing Club by Friday evening to take part in the English Open Challenger Championship held during the weekend 20-21 May. The event was organised by Oxford Sailability and Oxford Sailing Club. There were twelve visiting sailors, three of whom were sailing boats kindly loaned by Oxford Sailability and Burghfield Sailability.

The weather forecast looked promising both in strength and direction with NEly F3 gusting F5 forecast for the weekend. The promise of a NEly was welcomed, particularly by the shore crew, as it meant that the Oxford slipway was not going to be a leeshore. Fingers were tightly crossed.

Saturday morning saw the arrival of the final Challenger. Over the last week or so the boat had been dug out of a hedge and refurbished by George Barker. It was something of a work in progress but it did sport a new P&B sail.

The weather was looking perfect with the promised NEly of F3 gusting F4 complete with sunshine. At the briefing the race officer emphasised that the intention was to run the racing according to the schedule so could people reach the course area on time please? Unusually the fleet was threatened with a black flag if they did not behave themselves but 'P' proved to be quite sufficient.

The Challengers were launched for race 1 which was four laps of a trapezoidal course with the windward mark within sight of the clubhouse. David Driffill (275) was first to the windward mark and led for the rest of the lap before losing out on the second beat. Val Millward (312) took the lead for the next two laps with Graham Hall (270) taking it on the fourth. It was close at the finish with Graham taking the win followed by Val and Rory (281) coming through for third. In the bronze fleet Neil Bartlett and Murray (232) were delighted to have overtaken a silver fleet boat and achieved their best result of the event.

When the sailors came in for lunch the results had been published and some sailors were pleased and surprised by their results. Ben Foulsham (263) did not expect to be leading the silver fleet. Caz Jerromes (313) did not expect to be second in Silver as she had missed out the third mark and was almost at the fourth before she realised her mistake and doubled back. Chris Keats-Hannan (5) was very (pleasantly) shocked to find herself third in Silver. However, mutterings were to be heard about the wind shifts with one sailor claiming they could be 40 degrees either way!

After lunch the fleet was launched for two back to back races.

Race 2 was three laps of the same trapezoidal course. Steve Lee (301) led for the first lap before falling foul of the wind shifts on the second beat and losing the lead to George (138), who in turn had lost it to Val by the finish. Lynn Steward (117) surprised herself by rounding the first windward mark in 6th even if she was unable to hold it for the rest of the race.

In race 3 Diana Faulks (288) pulled out all the stops and rounded the first windward mark in third and going on to sail her best race of the weekend finishing in 6th. Lynn just managed to cross the line before her kicker snapped and was relieved it hadn't happened a few seconds earlier as she had her best result of 11th. Val achieved another win.

So half way through the event Val was happy to be at the head of the fleet (albeit by a single point). Diana led the silver fleet and, Nicholas Bishop and Gareth the bronze (258).

After racing the fleet retired to the clubhouse for a magnificent three course meal funded by the sponsors. There was much discussion of the day's events with David summing it up as "A superb day for sailing - the best day this year" and he was happy with his position of fourth overall.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny and the NEly breeze was slightly stronger probably F4 gusting F5 giving proper champagne sailing on flat water. However, the wild wind shifts continued.

The fleet was launched for a further two back to back races still using a trapezoidal course. When running down to the start Lynn's kicker broke (again) but she decided to carry on rather than have a DNC. This was a wise decision as it allowed her to discard her poor race 1. Pauline Shaw (266) was less lucky as her rudder started jumping off.

The start of race 4 was somewhat chaotic with a huge wind shift a few seconds before the start knocking many of the boats head to wind or worse. The wind soon flicked back and all the fleet got away. Duncan Greenhalgh (280) took the lead but he was closely followed by Graham, with Val not far behind. George approached the third, and final windward mark on port with insufficient space to round it. He infringed both Duncan and Graham (and the air rang with "Protest!") and he lost valuable places doing his penalty turn. Duncan and Graham collected themselves and did battle to the finish with Graham gaining the upper hand in the last 10m to the line.

In race 5 Val suffered from what Graham calls "Red Boat Syndrome" when too many sailors decided to follow her and she was unable to tack when she wanted to. Graham capitalised on Val's misfortune and, although hotly pursued by George, took first with Chi Chian Wu (125) having his best result coming 3rd.

The fleet returned for lunch and to fortify themselves for the last race. Ben had one hand on the silver fleet trophy and, Nicholas and Gareth were closing in on the bronze. However, the situation in the gold fleet was much more fluid. Val needed a win and at least one boat between her and Graham to take the championship and 3rd to 7th were separated by just three points.

Val seized the initiative and led for the first lap. Graham briefly took the lead during the second beat but Val had regained it by the windward mark and held it to the finish but Graham clung onto her tail to take second. Steve's charge to the finish gave him third, and after an indifferent morning session, Rory bounced back for fourth. Ben and Caz gave the rest of the gold fleet a shock by storming through to take fifth and sixth.

So Graham is the new English Challenger Champion winning by just a single point. Val had to settle for second and Steve just pipped Rory to third. Ben had a comfortable win in the silver fleet and Caz's last race gave her a one point the edge over Diana. Nicholas and Gareth cemented their position at the top of the bronze fleet with Dan Bainbridge and Ros (272) in second with Neil and Murray scrapping passed Simon Cruden and Mark (231) to take third.

The prizes were presented by the CEO of the RYA, Sara Sutcliffe, who attended the event on Sunday along with Joff McGill (manager of RYA Sailability). Also present was Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

David Newton (Chairman of the Oxford Sailability Regatta Organising Committee) thanked the event sponsors: The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and Owen Mumford Ltd. He also expressed thanks to Christ's Hospital of Abingdon, Virtual Effect and, Wallingford and Didcot Rotary who together funded the refurbishment of the Oxford Sailability Challengers for the event, and also to the Oxford Sail Training Trust who provided time, expertise and materials. Thames Water also provided support. We were pleased to welcome representatives from all these organisations on Sunday.

Thanks were also given to those on the ground who, once the funding was secured, could make the event happen: the Oxford Sailability Regatta Organising Committee; the principal race officer Tony Thresher and assistant David Rollinson; and all the Oxford Sailability and Oxford Sailing Club volunteers who contributed to the smooth running of the event.

This was one of those rare events when all the hard work paid off and everything fell into place. Even the weather gods looked kindly down and allowed Challenger sailing to be shown at its very best.

Overall Results:

The Shipwrights Trophy (1st overall) - Graham Hall
Anglo Marine Plate (1st Silver) - Ben Foulsham
Bronze Barometer (1st Bronze) - Nicholas Bishop
Oxford Sailability Challenger Championship trophy - Nicholas Bishop

PosFleetBoatSail NoHelmClubR1R2R3R4R5R6Pts
1stGoldDaisy270Graham HallRutland SC1‑321127
2ndGoldLegless Jester312Val MillwardRutland SC2113‑518
3rdGoldFriendship301Steve LeeRutland Sailability‑64554321
4thGoldBlack Jack281Rory McKinnaClyde Cruising Club3537‑8422
5thGoldDorothy138George BarkerOxford SC72762‑824
6thGold 125Chi Chian WuChinese Taipei5‑9843727
7thGoldEvelyn275David DriffillOgston SC46496(DNC)29
8thGoldWhite Knight280Duncan GreenhalghBassenthwaite SC87‑1029935
9thSilverFreethinker263Ben FoulshamOxford Sailability98‑1287537
10thSilverMach 1313Caz JerromesRutland Sailability10109‑1111646
11thSilverBlack Rat288Diana FaulksRutland Sailability11‑13610101047
12thSilver 117Lynn StewardWigan and St Helens SC‑15121114131161
13thSilverSheffield Challenge5Chris Keats‑HannanOgston SC12‑141312121362
14thBronze 258Nicholas Bishop & GarethOxford Sailability13‑151413141266
15thBronze 272Dan Bainbridge & RosOxford Sailability(DNC)161615151476
16thSilver 266Pauline ShawGrafham Water Sailability(DNC)1115RETDNSDNS83
17thBronzeOxford Blue232Neil Bartlett & MurrayOxford Sailability1618171616(DNS)83
18thBronzeDan Buoy231Simon Cruden & MarkOxford Sailability1417(DNF)DNSDNSDNS88

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