Major talent on show at the RYA Zone Championships held throughout the country last weekend 3/10/06

Winners have been named and prizes have been handed out at RYA Zone Championships, a multi-venue regatta that saw Britain’s best junior sailing talent gather across England.

Racing took place this weekend 30 September-1 October, in each of the six RYA Zones with nearly 1,000 sailors signing up to take part in an event that would not only decide Zone Champions but would also help select the RYA Junior Racing Squads for the next competitive year.

Once again, the RYA Zone Championships have proved to be the biggest RYA Junior Racing event of the season and the most popular, with around 800 boats and boards competing across the country.

The South Zone Championship hosted by the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy boasted the largest entry of the six zones with over 300 sailors taking part.

Saturday in Weymouth brought gusting winds of up to 20 knots but with the weather forecast to bring stronger winds on Sunday, the sailors bravely hit the water to get in some racing.

Laser 4.7 sailors from around the UK attended the South Zone Championships, the last qualifier for the National 4.7 Squad. Close racing dominated the fleet with Martin Hayes, Shane Terry and Charlotte Greenhalgh gunning for the top three places. After some exhausting racing with sailors fully hiking to keep their boats upright, Hayes from Blithfield Sailing Club took the win with Terry in second and Greenhalgh in third.

The girls led the way in the Cadet fleet, with three female skippers winning the top three places along with their crews. Joanna Freeman and Holly Francis from Poole finished in first overall and added another trophy to their growing collection, followed by Phillipa and Michael Horne from Frensham and Sophie Pearson and Liam Pardy from Parkstone.

As predicted Sunday brought winds gusting up to 29 knots and as a result, racing was called off and prizegiving held early to recognise the sailors who had finished at the top.

South West
In the South West Zone, the Championship was hosted by Plymouth Youth Sailing who made the decision early to get in as many races possible on the first day of the event.

Racing in a brisk 12-16 knots, a battle between sailors from Restronguet SC quickly ensued in the Optimist fleet, with five sailors from the club finishing in the top five. George Wilson and Christian Townrow finished on equal points with Wilson winning on count-back with two firsts and two seconds. David Grant finished just behind them in third.

The Mirror fleet had some good racing with most boats capsizing in the fresh breezes. Rob and Will Searle got off to a rocky start with a DNF but followed it up with three first place finishes giving them the win. John Harvey and Alex Parks took second and Freya Adams and Mike Chapman took third.

The West Zone Championship, held at Blithfield Sailing Club saw over 130 sailors and the largest windsurfing fleet of all six Zones gather together to compete in the varying 6-15 knots of wind.

Blithfield, a relatively small lake, threw up several challenges for the race committee, none smaller than that of getting over 130 boats competing in a restricted area.

The 40 windsurfers were treated to a morning of training before hitting the racecourse, where Tom Dickinson from Covenham Sailing Club put his new skills to the test, going on to win all five races in the 5.5 Open Fleet.

The Bic Techno fleets also had some close racing with Finlay Forster Davies from Astbury Sailing Club finishing top of the heap on the 7.8 and North Lincolnshire’s George Bowles on the 6.8.

Draycote Water’s Michael Wood was also on top form in the 51-boat Topper Fleet, counting only first place finishes on his score card. It was a close race for second and third with Andrew Salt from Chelmarsh just edging out Sam Watson from Nantwich for the second place position.

At Derwent Reservoir, host of the North Zone Championship, the first day of racing brought a bright, late-summers day, with the wind filling in as if on cue, straight after the competitor briefing.

When the rest of the country were struggling with strong winds, a light shifty breeze descended on the reservoir, testing all the competitors to the limits throughout out the four races on day one and the one race on day two.

The Optimist fleet saw some hot competition with Ben Pole from Saunton Harold Sailing Club and Northampton Sailing Club’s Lucy Childs tussling for first place. Ben mastered the light and shifty conditions on the first race of the first day posting a convincing win, enabling him to take the top spot. Racing between Ben and Lucy was nip and tuck all weekend, with Ben just scraping through to victory by one point.

The Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club Novice trophy, awarded to a sailor who had never competed in a championship before, was given to local Optimist sailor Daniel Trotter who finished 19th out of 34, an awesome feat for a junior who has been racing for less than a year.

Strong winds were also on the table at the East Zone Championship, held at Dabchicks Sailing Club and West Mersea Yacht Club where racing took place on three courses on the River Blackwater.

The event, sponsored by the East of England Co-operative Society, got off to a rocketing start. Saturday saw three races completed for all fleets with winds increasing from 10 knots to 16 knots over the course of the afternoon, accompanied by gusts of 22 knots, often catching out the unsuspecting sailor. On Sunday the wind increased and continued to build making it possible to complete only one race before racing was abandoned for the day.

The 22-strong windsurf fleet had an action packed two days. The conditions were tough for the younger competitors but all showed tenacity and determination, resulting in some spectacular racing. For many of the sailors this event marked their first experience sailing on the sea and all handled it well.

Racing in the Optimist fleet was full of excitement, with the top three boats all tied with five points following the final race. Ben Harden from Burnham-on-Crouch finally took honours on count-back with local sailors Sam Curtis and Ollie Gozzett from Dabchicks SC finished in second and third respectively.

The RS Feva class saw the weekend’s most consistent performance with Nathan and Anna Ackroyd from Norfolk Broads YC placing first in all four races to convincingly win the class. The pair took home the RYA Eastern Regions Junior Champions Trophy for the best overall performance at the event

South East
A total of 141 sailors made the trip to Bewl Valley Sailing Club for the South East Zone Championship. With 8-14 knots on the first day sailors got three races in with the Windsurfing fleet having a morning training session before beginning to compete for the Championship title later in the day.

Sunday brought bigger breeze but with 20-30 knots on the course, sailors still braved the conditions to get in some races and for some a bit of swimming.

The Topper fleet was dominated by Freddie Connor from Bexhill Sailing Club, who showed a high standard of racing from the moment the first starting gun was fired. Julia Beck placed second and finished as the highest placed girl in the Topper Fleet, proving an inspiration for many young female junior sailors.