The Oxford University yacht racing team scored a decisive victory against Cambridge at the 2016 Yachting Varsity Match last weekend, winning five races out of seven and ending Cambridge’s three-year winning streak.
The Varsity Match was sailed in Sunsail Match 40 First yachts on the Solent over Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th March, the weekend preceding BUSA Championships, as a part of a fleet race in the Sunsail Chiller series. With extremely light forecasts looming over BUSA finals in the following week, the Varsity Match was fortunately sailed in near-perfect conditions with 12-17 knots of relatively stable north-easterly breeze.
Oxford made a strong start in the very first race, winning the Committee boat end of the line and maintaining their position near the top of the fleet of 11 boats through the first beat from Peel Bank to North East Ryde Middle. As the fleet split on a closely fought downwind leg, Oxford headed right of the fleet to protect their wind while Cambridge made gains by taking a more direct route. Rounding the bottom mark with Cambridge one boat behind, Oxford managed to maintain their lead through the second lap, losing a couple of places in the fleet to spinnaker troubles and finishing 5th, with Cambridge barely a boat length behind in 6th place.
In the second race sailed around the same ‘sausage’ course, Oxford recovered from a poor start after being shut out at the Committee boat end of the line. However, good boat speed on the upwind legs combined with Lulu Wallis’s Buoy Racer-inspired tactical calls brought Oxford back into a very close race, scoring a respectable 5th place and leaving a boat between them and Cambridge in 7th.
The third race, sailed on a ‘trapeze-sausage’ course, saw a dramatic twist when the Oxford team ripped their spinnaker in the first drop at the bottom mark, despite the previous night’s efforts to tape every remotely sharp part of the rigging and bow. This left them vulnerable on the final downwind leg and Cambridge were closing in fast. Using the spinnaker pole to goose-wing the jib instead, Oxford held their ground and only dropped a few places behind in the fleet. The race came down to the final metres, with Cambridge managing to squeeze their bow across the line just ahead of Oxford, winning them their first race against Oxford and bringing the score down to a two point difference.
The Oxford crew managed to source a new spinnaker for the fourth and final race of the day. After a disappointing start from both Oxford and Cambridge, the two teams sailed as close a race with each other as permitted by the gentlemen’s agreement of not match racing each other at Varsity. There was some more downwind drama in the final leg of the race, as Oxford protested Cambridge for breaking rule 17. Regardless, Oxford finished the race a place ahead of Cambridge and later dropped the protest.
It was Oxford’s turn to organise a dinner with Cambridge for the Saturday night this year and as it turned out, the team were much less organised on the shore. After many failed atempts at booking a table for 15 with half an hour’s notice on Saturday night, the Oxford bowman (aka “Mr Max”) struck gold with an Indian Restaurant namped “Royal Spice” that was completely empty on our arrival. Despite initial suspicions, both teams had an enjoyable dinner together and even managed to catch the end of the England-France rugby game before getting a relatively early night.
The first race on Sunday was perhaps the most closely fought of the Varsity Match, with a strong start from Cambridge, followed by Oxford making gains on each of the beats and Cambridge again catching up on the runs. In the dramatic downwind finish at Peel Bank, Cambridge again managed to pull ahead by a few metres just before the line, finishing 4th in the fleet with Oxford in 5th.
The Oxford crew consolidated their lead over Cambridge in the second race of the day. A bold tactical call by Lulu Wallis separated Oxford from the rest of the fleet and paid off, catapulting them into second place by the first mark. On the run from Browndown to Peel Bank, strong pit work from Katie Ward allowed Oxford to protect their position, dropping into fourth on the second beat after getting caught in a lull. In the trapeze section of the course around Motherbank and Mackley van Oord marks, Oxford were one of only two boats in the fleet who managed to pull off a hot reach with all three sails, shooting past the competition to finish the race in 2nd place, with Cambridge in 6th.
After a dramatic pre-start to the final race that saw two other yachts in the fleet crash into each other with enough force to throw a bowman into the water, Oxford once again sailed well and remained in the top three up to the very end of the race, when failing to spot a heavy bias in the finish line early enough cost them a place, leaving Oxford in 4th and Cambridge in 8th.
Overall, the Oxford team finished 5th in the regatta with 35 points, and Cambridge in 7th with 45 points after discards. With Varsity won, the Oxford yacht racing team now have four days of BUSA ahead of them on the same Sunsail F40 in more challenging, light wind conditions. A proper celebration may have to wait.
Skipper: Josh Bell
Tactician: Lulu Wallis (capt.)
Mainsail Trim: Bryn Phillips
Trim 1: Marianna Voudouroglou
Trim 2: Eerik Toom
Pit: Katie Ward
Mast: Laurence Maschio
Bowman: Max Jamilly