Offshore of Durban: 25 and 26 November
Rudy McNeill and crew member, Aaron Ward, were triumphant in testing conditions at the Royal Natal Yacht Club’s Flying Fifteen Nationals held offshore of Durban on 25 and 26 November.
The annual regatta held offshore of Durban had a small but passionate flotilla lining up to compete. On the first day, the sailors managed only one race with renowned Flying Fifteen sailors, Patrick Harris and Jeremy Kriek claiming top honours.
On Sunday, it was all about the exciting new combo of McNeill and Ward. The Race Officer was able to get in three races in frustratingly light conditions, with the newbies taking line honours in every race, building on their third place from day one.
McNeill, sailing with the support of Club Marine Insurance, continues his epic comeback after his phenomenal performance at the Laser Nationals a few months ago, and then following that up with a successful outing to Henley Midmar Yacht Club for the KZN Regionals where he earned gold.
McNeill took a sabbatical from sailing after campaigning for the 2020 Olympics. His fairytale return just keeps getting better and better. “I am gaining a lot of good momentum.” McNeill stated after the prize giving. “I think the last time I sailed a Flying Fifteen was about 7 years ago, and I really enjoyed sailing in the class again.”
Point Yacht Club’s McNeill, who is a wizard in the Laser class shared, “I received a phone call from fellow Laser sailor, Campbell Alexander three days before the nationals, saying that there was a very good boat that had become available, and do I want to sail? The answer of course was yes.”
This was the second time that McNeill had ever raced in a Flying Fifteen regatta, the first time it took three days for him to work out how to make the boat go faster. His young crew, Ward, also a Laser sailor, had only crewed on a spinnaker dinghy two or three times prior.
“Aaron has loads of potential, he is an exciting prospect and certainly is the next champ in the making. It was a steep learning curve, sailing with a spinnaker. Our first day and first race, I had a shocker of a start, getting squeezed out completely, we had to gybe around and were almost last off the start line. We managed to find some clear air and pull ourselves up to fourth at the top mark. We slowly nudged our way to third, gaining on the front two boats but didn’t manage to haul them in, settling for a third.”
By the end of the first race, the two FF novices were improving, getting a bit more confidence in their handling of the beautiful boat. Conditions on Sunday were predicted to be light, but the gentle breeze didn’t settle and was switching, blowing from all directions.
“Our game plan was just to stay clear and build on our momentum. The boat felt really good, and we got our day started with a win. Our second race, we got a bit more interactive with the other boats, a bit more aggressive on our approach at the start, kind of like what I do with the Laser. And we absolutely nailed that start, flying out the gates and lead right from the start and had a very long lead when we finished.”
Going into the third race, they were tied on points with Harris and Kriek. With the wind completely dying off, and the racetrack shortened, the regatta’s conclusion became very tactical. “We thought, well, let’s keep clear and keep an eye on Patrick.”
Rounding the top mark, McNeill and Ward were lying in second, ahead of Harris and Kriek. The all-important downwind, any small bit of gusts the boat would accelerate and make up a lot of distance. They kept to the clean air and managed to overtake Alexander with about 10 boat lengths to go at the bottom mark, getting around him and snatch victory.
“It truly is a tremendous achievement that we managed three firsts on Sunday and won it overall. For Aaron, this is his first ever national title, the first of many, I am sure. He is super stoked with our result. It was an awesome regatta; I wish there had been a bit more breeze but none the less, it was great fun, and I can’t wait for the next one.”
McNeill is relishing his time back on the water. His intentions are to compete in a Vasco, or some local keeler races, using the extra experience in the build up to defending his title at the 2024 Laser Nationals up in the Vaal.
1 Rudy McNeill / Aaron Ward; 2 Patrick Harris / Jeremy Kriek; 3 Campbell Alexander / Ralph Thomas; 4 Paul Changuion / Tim Duguid; 5 Myles White / Estelle Buys; 6 Dave Herridge / Torben Herridge; 7 Craig Campbell / Gregg Hurter
Back on land, pictured after their victory are skilled sailors, Aaron Ward and Rudy McNeill taking top honours in the Flying Fifteen Nationals held offshore of Durban over the November payday weekend.