Wilson Trophy Spectators
After 345 fully-umpired races, the 2013 Wilson Trophy has come to a close. Of those races, we competed in 22; 18 in the regular racing, followed by two quick wins in the quarterfinals, followed by two quick losses in the semifinals. We didn’t win, didn’t take home the glory of being the25th and newest title defenders. That honor went instead to Wessex Exempt, who sailed cleanly and classily throughout the regatta, both when they knocked us out in the best of three formatted semifinals and when they went 3 and 1 in the best of five finals.
The losses in the semifinals hurt. We flipped in the first of the two, closing the door at the windward offset too sharply in a puff, and then finished just a couple boatlengths shy of a winning combo despite a fairly quick righting and our teammates’ well-executed slowing. The second race we lost off the line, and never quite got back into. When we sailed back to the dock past the cheering fans, it was hard to shake off the malaise that comes with the absolute defeat of a knockout. We de-rigged the boats and dollied them up, replaying the moments that cost us our shot at the title in our heads.
By the time the boats were away and we had changed and gotten a snack, it was time to watch the finals between Wessex Exempt and** the Grafham Grilling Gorillas.** As we walked towards the packed grandstand full of fans, highlighted by the booming voices of the announcers projected for a mile around, the disappointment became a bit less sharp, and the magic of our surroundings began to sink in. As Dinneen pointed out, it’s pretty amazing to be cheered on by so many people while you do what you love to do–the fans were going wild. Their own beloved West Kirby Hawks, the (until today) reigning Wilson _and _World Team Racing Championship titleholders got knocked out in the semifinals along with us, so the fans resorted to rooting uproariously and indiscriminately during any exciting engagement. After Wessex clinched their victory in the finals, they sailed past the fans to a standing ovation that I was proud to be a part of.
The only time I’ve experienced anything even close to this kind of fan adoration and respect for the sport of sailing was at the America’s Cup World Series event in Newport, R.I., which thousands of people came to watch. That was incredibly cool in its own right, but it lacked the grassroots feeling that the Wilson offers, not to mention the fact that scoring a spot on an AC45 or AC72 is much more realistic for those with decades of professional sailing under their belts. Here, the West Kirby Sailing Club members and the surrounding community came together to put on the most fantastic regatta I’ve ever been to in my life.
At the awards ceremony at the end of the day, the commodore first read off a long list of thank-yous, from Chief Umpire Peter Johnson to Helen (a club member who organized the housing for all of the competitors and umpires), to the gracious hosts themselves, to the women who sewed the tapestries that transformed the boatshed into a classy banquet hall. This event would be completely impossible without the massive support from the locals, the umpires, and the donors who helped provide the boats. How’s this for dedication: Both Saturday and Sunday mornings as we complained about waking up at 7:30 a.m., volunteers had already awoken at the crack of dawn and were out setting up our boats and course for us.
It’s not a moneymaking scheme of an event; instead, it’s something that the locals love and pour their energy into in order to make it a reality. It’s something that the umpires love enough to sacrifice their time and money to in order to get yelled at by disgruntled competitors (and participate in a “wine wave” or two while they’re at it). And it’s something that the competitors love enough to fly halfway around the world for, just to fly home a couple days later battered, exhausted, and jet-lagged. The venue, the people, and the race management are so mind-blowing that you have to see it to believe it. As Wessex Exempt’s Jon Pinner—a first-time victor and tenth-time competitor—said in his acceptance speech, 363 days until the next Wilson Trophy begins. ****
Amelia Quinn is a senior at Tufts University, studying a little bit of Arts and Sciences and a lot of sailing. Check out her blog Rolling Start for more on the Wilson Trophy!