Top school sailors steer a course to Itchenor

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Itchenor Sailing Club open their doors to competitors in the annual Schools Sailing Championships this week.

This year’s event, beginning on Wednesday, celebrates the Queen’s – and the event’s – Diamond Jubilee.

Originally known as the the Public Schools Firefly Invitation Championships, it was started by Colin Chichester-Smith and Charles Currey of Fairey Marine 60 years ago.

The aim was – and still is – to promote inter-schools sailing competition and encourage young sailors.

In years gone by, before schools purchased boats, members of the club would loan their own. They would also accommodate all the competitors in the club and their homes, a tradition which continues today.

The dinghy of choice was originally the Firefly, one of the first production dinghies ever built in large numbers. The first four were bought by Sir Geoffrey Lowles, then commodore of Itchenor Sailing Club, which he named Fe, Fi, Fo and Fum.

In 1985 there was a change of boats from Fireflies to International 420s to encourage the development and fun of schools using a spinnaker and trapeze boat. Nowadays schools have the choice of entering Fireflies or 420s.

To date 20 schools have entered, with nearly 70 youngsters racing close to 50 boats, many returning to defend their titles.

Kings School, Parkstone Grammar, Magdalen College and Millfield School all had boats placed in the top three in various classes last year. In 2000 the format of the event was changed. While the competitors’ main objective was the racing, training sessions were introduced led by members of Itchenor SC.

This year successful members of the club who have also trained as RYA instructors will return to take on this role.

The four-day event, starting Wednesday, will feature a ten-race series sailed over a variety of course configurations, with variable legs intended to maximize boat performance and crew enjoyment, but yet provide opportunity for close and fair racing in tidal conditions.

There will also be race training, a mini-series of short races and a split between gold and silver fleets, subject to the number of entries.

In four years’ time it may be some of the schools’ week competitors heading for Olympic gold in Brazil. Mind The Gap Year, a local safety planning and preparation company for young people’s travels, have sponsored this event for six years.

Mind The Gap Year MD Michael Pettifer said: “It’s a privilege to once again be invited back to join in this fantastic occasion. The fact both MTGY and the Schools Sailing Championships are both about ensuring young people have fun safely is just one of the reasons we work so well together.”

Competitors will hope to follow in the footsteps of previous championship winners, such as Rodney Pattisson and Ian Walker, who went on to win Olympic medals.