Schooling graduates from Oxford with flying colours
Ben Schooling navigated his Musto Skiff around a challenging square-lap course to beat a record entry of 146 boats at the Oxford Blue. The GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series has been a predominantly breeze affair this season, and the forecast for Farmoor Reservoir was shaping up for another windy one.
As the fleet launched, the gusts started hitting the water, sometimes in excess of 20 knots, although the problem was more the wild variation and unpredictability of the breeze than the wind strength itself.
Former 49er squad sailor and coach Rick Peacock was crewing a Fireball for the first time, sailing with the experienced Ian Dobson. “How do I gybe a symmetrical spinnaker?” Peacock was asking before the start. The lesson clearly didn’t need teaching twice, as Dobson and Peacock tore around the square course at a blistering pace, flying the spinnaker down the tight reaches and winning the first race from Ian Martin and Chris Catt’s RS200 with Ed Presley’s Contender in 3rd.
While the rain drizzled all day, the breeze moderated for race 2, and Iain Horlock raced his Supernova into 1st place, with Arran Holman and Billy Ozzan blasting around the track in their 29er for 2nd and former Oxford Blue winner Mike Lyons 3rd in his Blaze. Following a 16th in the first race, Ben Schooling was able to make better use of the gennaker on the second tight reach to finish 4th in this heat.
The breeze continued to soften for the final race, although the fast boats were still fully stretched on trapeze as they launched out of the start. Schooling made good use of the dying breeze to make good ground ahead of the slower boats, although once again Lyons was looking very good in the Blaze, finishing 2nd.
Top Moth sailor Ben Paton had borrowed a RS Aero for the day and came 3rd in this race, which was almost good enough to overtake fellow Lymington Town sailor and Mr RS Aero himself, Pete Barton, in the overall Aero standings. However Barton held on to finish 11th overall and won the RS Aero Winter Championships. As they have for many of the Series events this season, the D-Zeros were out in force at Farmoor, and once again David Summerville was top finisher, a 6th place in the final race elevating him to 13th overall.
As to outright victory, it couldn’t have been closer between the Musto Skiff and the Blaze, with Schooling’s win in the final race just edging out Lyons who came so close to repeating his win here two years ago in much lighter breezes.
“I felt I had a pretty good day, probably top 10 but didn't think I'd won,” said Schooling afterwards. “I was using the RS800, Fireball and Scorpions as benchmarks as they're all good sailors. So I had a fair idea how I was tracking against them. It's impossible to tell how we're ranking against the medium and slow handicap boats, but if we're planing then generally the Musto Skiff can hold its own on handicap.”
You can watch all the race action back on SailRacer’s tracking website here: http://events.sailracer.org/eventsites/live-screen.asp?eventid=203845&eid=204178
For an event that is just three years old, Oxford Sailing Club have worked this regatta into a very smooth and efficient format. Now the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series moves on to this Saturday’s Bloody Mary at Queen Mary Sailing Club, with the long-range forecast suggesting yet another windy outing. So far all five events in the Series have run very close to maximum capacity. For the Bloody Mary, already more than 100 boats have entered, with a maximum entry this year of 350. Online entry for £17 is available before midnight on 6 January 2016.
Photo © Tim Olin