The Endeavour Trophy is a unique event in the UK dinghy sailing world. Held on the tidal waters of the rivers Crouch and Roach at the end of every year, it's an invitation only three day event, with the guest-list hand-picked from National Champions of selected recognised fleets. The RYA recognises The Endeavour as the pinnacle of that year's dinghy sailing achievements which will hail a 'Champion of Champions'.
With both my brother Ben and I being national champions of the Laser Radial and the RS Aero 7 respectively we had a choice of how we wanted to sail and who with. However due to a lack of boat and crew in the end we decided to pair up together, with Ben helming as we would represent the Lasers.
Heading into the event we suddenly realised how inexperienced at this new style of sailing we really were. Having only ever sailed together for 2 hours before and knowing the last time we did that I almost swam ashore after the first race we knew it was going to be tough to work together, remain friends and somehow achieve a good result. Suddenly we were faced with all these new aspects of sailing which had never cropped up in our singlehanded sailing before and I really felt like a fish out of the water!
We knew that if we were to do well we would have to come up with a plan, work together and try to put our singlehanded minds to rest. We came up with lists beforehand of what we probably would be good at coming from Lasers (such as windy air upwind hiking for example) and what we most likely would not be good at (spinnaker work for example). We then tried to work out if we could fix any of the weaknesses in the few hours sailing before the competition before assigning roles to each other and making sure we knew who was doing what at all times.
We had one day of training beforehand in a rather big 18-25 knots which was interesting to say the least. After launching our RS200, we reached across to the training area and on the first gybe absolutely sent it into a huge pitch pole and went head over heels - I didn't even realise it was possible to pitchpole a 200! Probably something to do with my 80kg in the front...
I didn't even realise it was possible to pitchpole a 200!
So after 3 hours training under our belt together we headed into the first day of the Endeavour Trophy with lots of energy and enthusiasm, ready to take on any challenges.
The first day was a day of huge learning for us. We had some good windward mark rounding's; 8th in race 1, 3rd in race 2 and then led around the first windward marks of races 3, 4 and 5 after nailing the starts (perhaps too much after an OCS in race 5?!? Not sure if this is the helm or crews fault either...). We had great speed upwind and had a good understanding about our priorities but our big weakness were the downwinds with the spinnaker. Unfortunately it was perfectly summed up in the first race when I hoisted the spinnaker and said to Ben "So how do I make this thing go fast again?". Facepalm. Whilst we did lose a significant number of places on every downwind, we reset after every race, got over our brotherly squabbles and tried to approach every race like the start of a new day. So after posting results of 13th, 6th, 19th and a 10th we were sat in 13th position overall, not bad for double handed amateurs but we definitely were hungry for more.
Sunday dawned to a slightly windier day which got us rather excited at the prospect of hiking. After sitting down and having many discussions on some of our downwind speed issues the previous night we had many new learnings to test out on the final 3 races of the championship.
In race 1 we had mega tidal flow against us pushing us downwind and whilst the original strategy was to hit the left shoreline at 2 minutes to go we managed to notice a very weird tidal effect on the right hand shore line. After a quick discussion we changed strategy, smashed the start and tacked out right immediately.
It soon became apparent we had made a great call, and quickly we were battling with the top 5 boats whilst the rest of the fleet were some way behind. A quick tidal shift call by me near the top of the beat resulted us in overtaking 3 boats in the space of 20 seconds and we rounded the first windward mark in 2nd. We hoisted the spinnaker and using the new knowledge I had soaked up we blasted off downwind, in the process managing to overtake the RS400 sailors in front of us. Yes that's right, we managed to overtake a boat on a downwind!
Whilst Ben and I were silently celebrating the success of overtaking a single boat downwind we dropped the spinni, rounded the leeward mark and set off upwind to the right shoreline with a big smile on our faces.
Crumbs. Looking back at the fleet I saw Ben Saxton and Toby Lewis (2015 & 2016 Endeavour Winners) only about 20 seconds behind us. How did they get there?! I thought they were deep at the windward mark?! Game on. Tacking up the right shoreline we managed to hold them off on the upwind and rounded the final windward mark still leading. One more downwind to go. Despite us trying every trick we could think of, Saxton & Lewis showed great speed and just beat us to the leeward mark, taking the race win from us.
With a big change of course area for Race 2 we knew the strategy would be completely different and set up for the race start. Expecting not many tidal differences across the course our strategy was to go left expecting a big left hand shift. We executed a good pin end start and sailed over to the left before getting the big leftie. Despite the wind shift it quickly became apparent that there was some tidal differences as the top 4 boats all came from the right hand side and we ended up rounding the windward mark in 5th. We were a lot better on our downwinds this time and combined with some solid upwinds managed to cross the line in 6th before we were horrified to find out we had got our second OCS! Nightmare.
Reflecting on race 2 Ben and I came up with a good theory as to why the right hand side paid on the first upwind. Taking into account the big left shift which was holding (and meant to stay in) as well as other factors we came up with a controversial theory that it would be the opposite side that would pay in the last race. After weighing up our options we decided we had nothing to lose, got another good start at the pin end and when the entire fleet tacked to hit the right hand shore we held out all the way to the left. Yes it was risky with the leverage we had but we both were very confident in the strategy and it paid off, with us coming into the windward mark with a 50 metre lead!
This time though Saxton & Lewis were right on our tail after some great downwind speed and had overtaken us by the leeward mark. With Saxton electing to head out right again on the beat, Ben and I chose the same strategy as previous and hit the shore on the left. With the wind still in a left phase from the beginning our move worked and we managed to overtake Saxton, coming into the final windward mark neck and neck with us rounding in front by centimetres.
Hoisting the spinnakers together, we both gybed simultaneously with Saxton pulling off the classic Emirates Team New Zealand VS Oracle Team USA America's Cup gybe and leaving us suffering in his dirty wake behind. Whilst it was game over for us leading the race, we were in 2nd by quite a distance and brought it home to cross the last race in 2nd.
Well what can I say, what a championship! Huge learning, great fun and awesome racing against the best of the best. We finished 13th overall but with a first windward mark position score line of 8th, 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st it was a shame the Endeavour Trophy isn't just a race to the windward mark! But we can't have everything in life, right? I had a great time and would love to do the Endeavour Trophy again and I really would recommend it to anyone who gets the chance, it is a real honour. Who knows, if I am ever back again I will certainly have some practice beforehand with a spinnaker! (and I would probably take the helm, sorry bro).
A big thanks to the UK Laser Association for their great help in supporting Ben and I in representing the Laser class this year and thank you to the Royal Corinthian YC for hosting such a marvellous event. Hopefully see you next year!
Onwards and upwards.
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