British youth excel in first race | Double-Handed IRC European Championship

Britons Josh Dawson and Ollie Hill, aged 25 and 23 respectively, have won the first leg of the Double-Handed IRC European Championship © Paul Wyeth/RORC
Britons Josh Dawson and Ollie Hill, aged 25 and 23 respectively, have won the first leg of the Double-Handed IRC European Championship © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Britons Josh Dawson and Ollie Hill, aged 25 and 23 respectively, have won the first leg of the Double-Handed IRC European Championship, taking both line honours and victory after IRC time correction, sailing Simon Toms’ Sun Fast 3300 Zephyr in the RORC Cowes Dinard St Malo Race. Second was Ian Hoddle’s Game On and third was Zeb Fellows and Willow Brand with Rock Lobster III.

Results Race One - Double Handed IRC European Championship

“A big thanks to Simon for letting Ollie and I take the boat because unfortunately he couldn't make this weekend,” says Dawson. “It's awesome for him to let us borrow the boat – he wanted us to push it quite hard, so that's what we did.”

Dawson and Hill  have competed together since sailing Optimists. They are part of a growing contingent of young sailors who regularly compete in RORC events, across both the double handed and fully crewed fleets. This year  around 100 sailors in the Cowes Dinard St Malo Race were under 25, with many of them sailing double handed.

This also proved to be a tough edition of the classic150 mile race, with a full beat of almost 100 miles from the start to the south west corner of Guernsey, with mean winds of around 25 knots for much of the race and significantly stronger gusts, especially in the earlier stages. By contrast, in the final 50 miles to the finish a wind shift to the north of west created fast power reaching conditions with the leaders consistently achieved fast double digit boat speed.

Another young competitor, Ellie Driver racing with her father Jim on Chilli Pepper, was second across the line. This was the first offshore race for a new Figaro 3 campaign. However the Figaro’s much higher IRC rating meant she finished further down the standings after IRC time correction.

Sun Fast 3300 Game On © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Next to finish was another Sun Fast 3300, Ian Hoddle’s Game On, racing with Ollie Wyatt, which crossed the line less than 10 minutes behind Zephyr, after a closely fought race. “Part of the reason we both did well is because we both pushed each other the whole way around,” says Zephyr’s Dawson. “We were never more than a mile away from Game On!

“It was a bit of a boat speed race really – there weren’t many opportunities to make big tactical decisions and split from the fleet. So having another boat right next to you the whole time was definitely pushing us along and making us constantly focus on boat speed.”

Their impressive performances also saw Zephyr and Game On take the top two places in IRC Two, ahead of fully crewed boats in the Cowes Dinard St Malo Race. 

Sun Fast 3300 Rock Lobster III © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Young sailors Zeb Fellows (17) and Willow Bland (26), sailing Nick Angel’s Sun Fast 3300 Rock Lobster lll, were third in IRC Two Handed and fourth on the water. Rock Lobster, which is slightly lower rated than the other 3300s, also won IRC 3 overall.

RORC Griffin Youth Squad in action © Paul Wyeth/RORC

What advice would Zephyr’s Josh Dawson give to young sailors who would like to follow in their footsteps? “You've just got to be really keen, be a good all-rounder and be willing to get stuck in,” says Josh. “There are loads of great owners out there who are offering lots of opportunities for young sailors and the new RORC Griffin programme obviously helps.” The RORC Griffin Youth Programme is a subsidised initiative paid for by RORC Members and benefactors. It was expanded in 2024 to give a squad of 20 sailors, chosen from 300 applicants, top level coaching followed by the use of Sun Fast 30s to compete in three RORC offshore races in the first half of this season.

“There's obviously been a big increase in the number of youth participants in offshore sailing over the last couple years,” Dawson continues. “I think that is also down to owners recognising that kids coming out of youth sailing have got a lot of good skills that can be transferred into offshore sailing. It's awesome.”

What particularly appeals to Dawson about double handed racing? “There are more and more youth sailors involved in the double handed fleet, which is great,” he says. “For me the attraction is the fact that you get to do everything on the boat. I think that appeals to a lot of people.”

The 600 mile Drheam Cup, which starts on July 15, will form the second leg of the Double-Handed IRC European Championship. The course will take competitors from Cherbourg, across the English Channel to Portland Bill and Wolf Rock near Lands’ End, before heading south to La Trinité in Southern Brittany. 

Report by Rupert Holmes

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