Lizzie Foreman reports from the weather rail of the J109 Yeoman as the British Keelboat Academy students work towards a place in the Commodore’s Cup

Over the 6-8th April, the crew of Yeoman of Wight competed in IRC Class 3 of the RORC Easter Challenge, based out of Cowes, Isle of Wight. With 13 boats in the fleet, the pressure was on to make good use of a hard winter’s training and churn out some top results.

Final preparations for the regatta were made on Thursday afternoon, which involved selecting the correct sails for the expected conditions, fuelling up the boat and the coach RIB, and stocking food and water on board. The trip over to Cowes gave us time to discuss plans for the weekend, work out the optimum positions for the Go-Pro camera, and save a few ferry fares!

With everybody staying at UKSA, it meant an early start on Friday morning in order to beat the breakfast queue! Also we were keen to get out on the water in time for the two practice starts, and to get into the groove of the light airs which were to dominate the weekend. Our hard work over the winter in terms of team building paid off, as we clicked straight back into working as a team. Highlighting a few little niggles before the first race meant that we hit the line with full speed- so much in fact, that we were over- finishing in first place, despite having to re-cross the line. Finishing with a good lead gave us all a real boost, as we had not raced since our first event in October. Our aim for the regatta was to just be sailing well, in a mid-fleet position, let alone taking first place!

This already great day was topped of with a real treat for the crew. We put on our glad rags (including a kilt and a tweed suit), and headed for an evening at the Royal Yacht Squadron, where we feasted on quails eggs, chicken, lobster, ice-cream and shortbread. With bellies full of good food (unusual for students) we certainly slept well that night, and were ready for the weekend’s racing.

The following races all took a windward-leeward format, so we didn’t have to worry so much about navigation, allowing us to focus on our strategy over the course and boat on boat tactics. We were pleased to find that our manoeuvres throughout the races were quite slick after having spent a good amount of time practicing them out in the cold, wet weather. With a lot of tacking and gybing, we were working hard despite the light winds, finishing within the top three in four of the following races.

Going in to the last day of racing, we were in a solid second place, with not many points between us and the fleet leader, a MAT 1010 named M.A.T.ilda. With three races that day, we did well, narrowly missing out on first place by a measly one point. If there was one major lesson to be learnt from the regatta, it is that every second really does count; one poor hoist, slow tack or over-trimmed sail really can mean the difference between first and second. Having made some big improvements to our light airs sailing, taking a podium finish (top of the seven 109s), we are very much looking forward to the rest of the season; buoyed on to do the best we can in order to qualify as part of the British Commodore’s Cup team.