There was another top Firefly entry at 2018 running of the annual British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) and British University Sailing Association (BUSA) Fleet Racing Championships. 124 student sailors, from 20 universities contested the event, hosted by Draycote Water SC and the University of Warwick, over the weekend of 10th and 11th of November.
Saturday morning began with relatively mild and pleasant conditions of a Southerly breeze around 8- 12 knots, broken cloud and some sunshine, although the forecast included a threat of some rain showers, locally heavy. To maximise the opportunity for a timely prize giving and departure on the Sunday afternoon, the race team chose to go for completing four races back to back for the first day of the event. The Firefly fleet went to the East end of Draycote Water
Race one got off sharply at 11:00 with most of the Fleet severely line shy. Murray Hampshire and Lewis Lane from Exeter University and Niall Houston and Cameron Massey from Birmingham University were quick to lay down the gauntlet, having charged away from the rest of the fleet by the first mark. After a close race first blood went to Hampshire and Lane followed by Huston and Massey with Giles Kuzyk and George Zavos also from Birmingham taking third. Having started very late due to being half way up a practise beat when the start signal went, Kuzyk and Zavos were forced to duke it out with Durham’s Oli Burrows and Huw Edwards right to the line in what was a masterful display of Firefly handling by both crews.
There was a short delay before the second race could get off as the course was shifted Westwards to take account of a huge windshift that had come in in the dying moments of the first race, bringing with it some torrential rain. After the wait Kuzyk and Zavos came out of the blocks swinging to prevent a Lane and Hampshire picket fence on day one. Swansea’s Robbie Robinson and Louis Giron muscled their way in front of Huston and Massey to take third.
Race three was virtually a repeat of the first race; the wind having swung back East as the weather front which had brought gusty, wet and extremely shifty conditions passed. A steady breeze and pleasant sunshine allowed racing to progress smoothly as Hampshire and Lane once again put in a thoroughly classy performance to deliver a narrow victory from Houston and Massey with Kuzyk and Zavos third and Southampton’s Matthew Shorrock and Tom Collyer Fourth.
Race four proved an easy win for Lane and Hampshire as both Birmingham boats, having pulled out an early lead, missed out on a major lift at the first mark allowing the boats behind to slip past them. Kuzyk and Zavos battled back to fourth but were unable to get past Plymouth’s Mat Currel and Harry Odling and Oxford’s Rory Rose and Tiarnan Finney.
Racing concluded for the day with the sun just peeking out above the horizon as everyone returned to shore. One of the students on the committee boat was heard to say “It was great fun being able to see all the boats lining up and jostling for position on the starts and the finishing process was just amazing – there’s so much to do on the committee boat – I had no idea before. It was great fun”.
Sunday morning was a little cooler and the now South South Westerly breeze was a few knots stronger as the fleet launched. Race five gave the fleet its first and only general recall (Good Fireflies!) before all boats got off clean on the second attempt under the black flag. It was business as usual for Hampshire and Lane who lead Kuzyk and Zavos across the line followed this time by a different Birmingham teammate in Adam Stone and Toby Sanderson. Oxford’s Rose and Finney were fourth.
There was a short pause before the sixth and final race of the Championship got underway for sailors, RIBs and Race Committee to mark Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice being signed. All of the signal flags were lowered and the BUCS flag displayed at half-mast. Two minutes silence was observed at 11:00am, concluding with a blast of the sound signal.
During the pause conditions had freshened to between 16 and 22 knots. Despite this, race six got off to a clean start. Plymouth’s Currel and Odling came out of the block flying but were dealt a blow as their geriatric mast folded in what serial Fleets boat maimer Odling described as
“Classic move, big gust, big hike, broken boat!”
This time the first beat shift went the way of the Birmingham contingent and Hampshire and Lane were spat out behind as Kuzyk and Zavos, Huston and Massey and Stone and Sanderson struck out in front with dominance in a solid Brum 1-2-3. Oxford’s Rose and Finney led the chasing pack to fourth. Hampshire and Lane’s fight back would take them to fifth – their only off-podium result of the weekend – but having fought off Birmingham to stamp four wins on the scorecard they had already done enough to secure themselves the well-deserved title. Speaking after prizegiving, an elated Hamshire commented
“happy to win! The Fleets provide racing you don’t otherwise get at uni. It was close racing, a nice weekend sailing. With the Fireflies being matched, this is a real test. Very positive feedback from freshers, a load of sailing….and we achieved our highest ever BUCS points!”
Not to be outdone in the drama stakes, Durham’s Oli Burrows and Huw Edwards provided much entertainment for all by sinking their rather beautiful privately owned wooden boat right in front of the clubhouse. Oli was heard blaming Huw for not dropping the centreboard fast enough – something that all Firefly crews know is basically treason and we hope will be dully punished by DUSC at their next Wednesday Sports Night.
A longer race – and considerably more capsizes – had spread the fleet further apart, which allowed the results to be quickly input and the prizegiving to go ahead on schedule at 2:00pm.
Overall victory may have been claimed by Exeter but the undeniable winners of the weekend were Birmingham University who put their considerable Firefly fleet racing experience into good use to dominate the top of the table. Counting a second, third and fourth Firefly overall to win the Men’s Team Championship as well as a closely contested second lady for Emily Heath and Emily Walters. Birmingham captain Giles Kuzyk reflected:
“We were really happy as a team and as an individual boat with our performance this week – shame to let first slip away, but we were close! The event this year was made better by the great breeze we had, which, although shifty and gusty at times, was generally pretty windy, making for some exciting racing. The competition was strong, and it was tricky to recover if you made a mistake.”
Sailors and officials paid tribute to Draycote Water SC and its staff, to Warwick USC , in particular Tim Haynes, who BUSA report “seemed to be on it, everywhere”, to all the Race Committee and volunteers, both on and off the water, and to all those who organised this first major event of the 2018-19 English Student Sailing season. Tom Rusbridge, Event PRO and RO on the Firefly course commented:
“We had a great weekend – Draycote Water and University of Warwick Sailing Club delivered once again on a seamless operation shoreside, the Uni volunteers made our lives running the racing that much easier and – bar a brief shower on Saturday lunchtime – the weather gods played ball, more or less all weekend. For the Fireflies we had some really good race starts, with only one general recall and only a small handful of OCS boats all weekend. Big up to our experienced mark layer, Daniel Gibbons and to all the volunteers and officials who made it possible”
Full Results for the 2019 BUSA/BUCS Fleet Racing Championships are available here