Fourteen teams from eleven universities across the country contested the Chernikeef/RYA British University Match Race Championship at Rutland Water, Lincolnshire this weekend. As well as the University Championships, the event also constituted the first round in the now long established RYA National Match Racing Championships, which will conclude in London’s Docklands in October.

The first day of racing bought light and shifty winds, which proved difficult for pre-race favourite Simon Shaw (Southampton University) who lost his first two races. By winning the following four races he managed to qualify in 3rd place for the final round robin. He attributed his loses to “lack of practise” but was still confident. “We lost our first two matches by making stupid mistakes. We1re definitely the best team here and we will win”, he said prophetically at the end of the first round. The best performance of the opening day came from Dom Johnson (Southampton Institute). Adam Turk (Portsmouth University) was another strong contender from day one, finishing 2nd in his group.

Day two bought winds gusting in excess of 20 knots. Tom Hebbert (Cambridge University), Chris Webber (Oxford University) and Jono Rix (Cardiff) all qualified joint 1st in an exceptionally close group two.

As inevitably is the case in match racing, six teams were eliminated at this stage, including Cambridge University1s Ladies sailing captain, Ari Liddell. The surprise failures at this point was John (Pom) Green (Southampton University) a former Youth World Champion.

With winds still increasing, one reef in the mainsails was signalled to depower the boats. By now the game had changed markedly from the light winds of day one. The need for tactical cunning and accurate reading the ever-shifting breeze now became secondary with crew work and boat handling skills paramount.

Although showing promise in the early stages of the competition, both Jono Rix and Chris Webber struggled to control their boats in the stronger winds. Simon Shaw on the other hand dominated the final rounds right from the start, with an exceptional display of boat handling skills. The surprise of the day came when Tom Hebbert who had shown great promise all weekend lost a grudge match against Oxford University1s Chris Webber. Webber had struggled in the windy conditions but was particularly happy with this result, saying “I don’t mind if I don’t get a place in the final as long as we beat Cambridge”. The rivalry between the two Universities obviously stretches beyond “The Boat Race”!

Going into the last of the seven-race Gold Group decider, Simon Shaw was undefeated, but not yet assured of victory. Shaw needed to beat Hebbert in the last race to ensure winning the British Universities Sailing Association (BUSA) Championship. To lose would leave him in 2nd position, with Hebbert the victor.

Shaw dominated the pre-start holding Hebbert the wrong side of the committee boat until the starting gun fired, then leading over the start line by a boat length. Exceptional crew work elongated Shaw1s lead to a comfortable five boat lengths by the finish.

After the race, Shaw said “We wanted to win more than any other team out there. We’re confident for the finals in London Docklands and hoping to do well against what will be very stiff opposition”. Shaw will be joined in the Chernikeeff/RYA Match Racing finals by Cambridge University1s Tom Hebbert.

By the time they get to London, the standard of sailing will undoubtedly have risen substantially with Britain’s top match racers and Olympians, Andy Beadsworth, Shirley Robertson and Andy Green all expected to compete.

Bill Edgerton, National Keelboat Coach was clearly pleased with the skills on show at the first Chernikeeff/RYA match racing qualifier of the year. “This was raw talent on display, with the emphasis on raw. Lots of good moves, lots of mistakes”, he said afterwards. “In the end Simon Shaw sh