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Wessex Sailing Club
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Team in Focus: Wessex Sailing Club 16/02/2016

We spoke to Tom Harrison, the President of Wessex Sailing Club, about his club and some of the opportunities and experiences that he has had through the club.

How big is the Sailing Club?

We have 135 members and manage to regularly get 60 people out on the water each week. Our club has three sections: Team Racing; Yacht racing and Recreational sailing. Team Racing is the most popular form of competitive sailing at University (where a race is between two teams of 3 boats and the team with the best combined result wins) and we have four teams which compete on a regular basis. We also have three Yachting teams competing in BUCS competition, plus a number of smaller teams which compete in external competitions. Recreational sailing is by far the biggest proportion of our club and it aims to cater for complete beginners to advanced sailors who just want to have a bit of fun, the only goal is to get as many people as possible out on the water and having a good time!

How often do you train?

Our Team Racing teams at least once a week, with occasional weekend training sessions, but spend most weekends (at least in second semester) doing non-BUCS events, treating these as a good way to apply techniques and tactics picked up during training. Unfortunately the Recreational sailing is at the mercy of the tides as the stretch of water where we run these sessions is dry at low tide! This means that we usually get a session in every other week, with RYA recognised courses running on around two or three weekends a semester. The yachting can go ahead whatever the state of the tide, so we try to run one session per week, however since we operate through the winter in England, we do still find ourselves restricted by heavy winds from winter storms.

What would you say is the best thing about the Sailing Club?

I think there are two things that are equally best about Wessex Sailing Club. Firstly that we are a mixed club, as I think that this creates a very healthy social dynamic. It promotes inclusion in everything we do, meaning that the social atmosphere is much more one of actual friendship.  

Secondly, that we incorporate such a wide range of abilities. In the normal scenario of sailing outside of university, it is rare that beginners get to properly mix with very high level sailors. Within our club however, we have strong friendships built between absolute novices and World (and even Olympic) champions. I think this sort of mixing is essential to promoting inclusion in a sport, and it is something that is particularly prevelant with Wessex Sailing Club.

How does a race work?

A traditional sailing race works something similar to the F1. There is a start line and a course, and each competitor races every other competitor around the course for a certain number of laps. The tough thing about that is that everyone has to own a boat, which is definitely not cheap, that is one of the main reasons team racing became popular at universities. In team racing there are only six boats involved in each race, three boats per team. The idea is that you race the course, but it is the overall team result that counts and your team either win or lose the race. This promotes a particularly intense and vindictive style of racing, as races are short and you can either race to win or you can race to make the other team lose. This is done by using the racing rules of sailing and some quite difficult tactics and team maneuvers, to make sure that your team combination is the best at the end of the race.

Competitions are structured as a round robin of races with every other team, usually followed by some sort of knockout rounds. 

What results have you recently had?

Recently our yachting 1st team came 2nd at the University Yachting world cup after winning the BUCS nationals last year. We have just placed 2nd, 3rd and 5th at the BUCS regional Team Racing Qualifiers, following up from a 2nd place at a Warwick University hosted event the previous weekend.

What events are coming up that you are looking forward to?

The next month and a half is very busy for the competitive side of our club. However between now and Easter we will be attending a number of other competitions. Two of our team racing teams will be attending the UK national championships at the start of March and the other will be attending an elite event hosted by Oxford University for the top team from each regional qualifier. In addition, we will have a team attending BUCS playoffs and some a couple of other events hosted by non-University teams. In addition we will have one or two teams attending an RYA match racing (basically like team racing but with only two boats - one per team) event as part of a winter series that has been going on. 

However this is all really building up to the three separate BUCS championships that take place over Easter: Team racing, Yachting and Match Racing. These events are each three or four days long and are huge events, both competitively and socially. They bring together the best University sailors from all over the country to race each other and to hang out for a few days. If the weather is good these have the feel of small festivals (excluding the daytime drinking) on the shore, but the racing is absolutely cut-throat. This combination of extremes makes the events absolutely brilliant and for most the highlight of the racing year.

How does Team Southampton help support the club?

Without Team Southampton I can say with absolute certainty that we would not be the club that we are. Our success competitively is trusted and recognised by Team Southampton, resulting in substantial amounts of funding. The BUCS events we enter are very expensive and attending them in such large numbers would be completely implausible without the funding we receive, meaning that some of the best student sailors in the country would be missing out on competing. 

In addition the funding they provide for development of the club and it’s members helps us keep our fleet of boats up to date, and allows us to provide nationally recognised courses for our members at a rate which is feasible for students. This continued interest from Team Southampton in all aspects of our club is, helping us remove the elitist stigma that surrounds sailing, allowing us to open up opportunities to everyone who wants them.

What is it like to be part of the Sailing Club?

Being part of the sailing club means being part of a large, close-knit community. On Wednesday afternoons the different parts of our clubs split and head to their respective training venues, but return all together in the evenings to socialise. This inclusive environment allows members to create strong friendships with a wide range of people, which only grow stronger over the years. In addition, since sailing events occur all over the place and are usually at least a weekend long, our competitive members get to travel around the country and spend extended periods of time with each other, again building close friendships. At the same time as this, they get to compete regularly at a very high level, against some of the best teams (uni and non-uni) in the country.

What have been the most memorable things over the past year?

For me one of the most memorable things over the past year (as in every year) was our taster session in early October where we had over 160 people attend and get out on the water. This statistic in itself is not why I find it so memorable. More so it is the fact that to host this taster day, we have to rely on a huge team of current members to give up their spare time and help us. The helpers are always very willing and I think that is a very good tell of how our members are treated within the club, and what being part of the club means to them. We ask them to get up at a stupid hour in the morning to come down and do anything from washing wetsuits, to tending a BBQ, for an entire day and they are always over the moon about doing so!

On a more personal note though, as part of our Yachting 1st team I was part of the winning team at BUCS finals last year and got to attend the World Championships in France in September. The racing we experienced in France was some of the closest I have ever had, with the whole week coming down to the final (and 18th) race of the week. Even though we didn’t quite win it, the intensity of that racing is not something I expect to experience again for sometime and was definitely one of the most memorable regattas I have ever done. Add the fact that I was doing this with some of my closest friends, and I feel that this is the perfect embodiment of what being part of Wessex Sailing club is about!

To see some highlights from of the club racing at the Wessex Winter Warmer head over to

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