Lipton Challenge Cup 2021. It Went Right Down to the Wire in the Final Race

The winning RNYC team who sailed aboard Orion DYP.
L-R. Peter Shaw; Alex Falcon; Mike Clarke; Marcello Burricks; Sean Van Rensburg; Davey James (skipper) and Stef Marcia.

by Richard Crockett

This was a Lipton Cup that will be remembered for many years to come due to the closeness of the racing, the challenges faced and, for the many firsts it chalked up.

The best way to cover it, is to start on the 6th leg of the final (10th) race of the series, on a 12 nautical mile windward/leeward course, as this was where positions suddenly began changing, and which determined the final overall winner.

Going into that race the RCYC team had led at the end of each day’s racing, until day four when just a single point separated the top three boats – RCYC; WYAC and the RNYC, as it did at the end of race 9, – and obviously at the start of the final race.

Aeolians Club took the lead at the end of the 6th leg of the final race. They had spotted what appeared to be some breeze on the left side of the downwind leg, went chasing it and rounded at the end of the leg in the lead, a step up from their third spot until then.

Interestingly not a single boat in the fleet decided to cover them, as the top three boats were still chasing each other’s tails, hoping to force a mistake or find a passing lane, of which there were few. It was a disastrous leg for both the RNYC and WYAC who rounded last and second last respectively at the end of the leg, and looked as if they had handed the Lipton Cup to RCYC. The RCYC lost her lead to Aeolians, but held second – an overall regatta winning position at that time.

The mark rounding positions in the final race.
produced by Derri Crockett

The final two legs of the race were left, and the wind had shifted requiring the Race Officer to shift the weather mark. Up this beat Aeolians and RCYC kept their first and second spots, but WYAC had sailed back into third, with RNYC still languishing in 5th – or last place!

The final downwind to the finish was on and there was everything to play for, with the RNYC team doing exactly what Aeolians did at the previous weather mark – they went left with the rest going right. In last spot it looked as if this was a desperate gamble they were taking with no shame should it not work out for them.

Half way down not much had changed and the RCYC supporters were all cock-a-hoop as their team looked like it would lift the Lipton Cup in victory.

That final race was likened to the medal race of the Olympic games.

Orion DYP was skippered by Davey James for the Royal Natal Yacht Club.

And then things suddenly changed. A small shift gave the RNYC an advantage and they began looking good. Could they pull something special out of the bag? It was anyone’s guess as suddenly they were in with a shout of victory, while the others were not looking so good.

And then we were in the last 100 metres of the final leg after 12 miles of racing, and it was still anyone’s game. It was unlikely that Aeolians would be beaten. The fleet surged ahead at rapid pace, Aeolians crossed the line first, with two boats approaching from the starboard side, and two from the port side. RCYC had lucked out and blown her chances in the shift, but the RNYC took full advantage of the situation and crossed second, a few boat lengths behind Aeolians. WYAC was next in third, a boat length or little more behind, as were ZVYC and RCYC.

It was all over bar the shouting – the RNYC had won the Lipton Cup, having come from last spot in the final race to second, giving her victory by a single point.

It could not have been a closer finish with just a few boat lengths separating all the boats. What a way to finish, and what a glorious advert for sailing in South Africa as the Cape 31 not only showed how quick they are, but how, properly sailed, positions can change throughout a race with just seconds between first and last.

Coming out of the start is Orion DYP with Vulcan to leeward and Nitro astern.

So back to the beginning now.

This was an event devastated by COVID and crew injuries within a few weeks of the start. Worst affected was the WYAC team aboard Nitro as one crewman broke a leg, and another was injured while others fell by the wayside with COVID and had to quarantine. They replaced their helmsman only to have him succumb to COVID too, less than 24 hours after being appointed. And other boats were affected too, as was the ZVYC team who were so determined to compete they quarantined and came out after all testing negative for the final 3 days. That’s dedication and the pride they had in wanting to represent their club.

COVID also put paid to the social aspects with no formal functions during racing, no free booze, and masks a standing order all the time when off the water. The opening ceremony was a “social distancing event” with some boats just sending one representative to introduce the crew and mix their water. Likewise, the prize giving was pretty short and sharp with no free booze either.

Nitro sailing for Witbank Yacht Club was skippered by Mike Hayton and helmed by Markus Progli.

Personally I have found at regattas at times that they are judged on the amount of “free stuff” available, especially booze. Yet it did not detract one bit from the job at hand – competing for the honour of lifting the coveted Lipton Cup in victory. Those competing knew that they were there to sail and not party!

The sailing waters of Saldanha Bay brought with them a very neutral venue as few had raced keelboats on these waters for more than a day or two, while others had competed in dinghies over a longer period. It was the neutral venue with no preconceived ideas about wind shifts, tides, currents and favoured sides which simply made the sailing so spectacular and even. And there was no kelp either – unlike on Table Bay in 2019.

The wind was perfect over the six days of racing, with a variety of conditions, and generally flat water, so sailing was fast and furious when the wind was up.

Vulcan was skippered by Hylton Hale for the Royal Cape Yacht Club.

With a few boats undercooked in terms of crew, the opening races were going to be interesting as they would reveal just who was on pace and who needed some work doing. The first race was a great contest with the WYAC team appearing to do well despite losing their helmsman, as they led at the final mark of the quadrilateral course in a dying breeze, only to fall into a hole and have the RCYC roll over the top of them and take the gun. For them the wind disappeared from their sails and they ended up last in the race.

The RCYC team took the next three races by the scruff of the neck and won two with a third spoiling what could have been a dream start to the regatta in the first two days. They were fast, they sailed smartly, and they looked to be the boat to beat.

After some reflection and “going back to basics” the other teams upped their game and from then on the pressure built each and every day to the crescendo of the final race.

The red boat is Nitro with Orion DYP to windward and Nemesis astern.

First to show renewed form was the RNYC who won race three, and had two seconds to their credit. They too showed good speed at times, and may have been wayward at other times, prompting skipper Davey James to say that they had sailed a little like an unguided missile. Unguided at times they were, but when they were in the groove they had speed to burn.

On day three it was the turn of the WYAC guys to shine. They won race five in fine style, and appeared to be powered by nitrox! This was the last of the compulsory courses, the windward/leeward course, with just one race for the day.

It was a tricky day with shifty wind directions, and speeds going up and down. The only saving grace was the flat water. WYAC won, extending their time on the fleet at every mark.

The following day, day four, those following the racing on the water were shown a masterclass of quality racing in each of the races. It proved conclusively that the best sailors in the country were competing.

Nitro sailing for Witbank Yacht Club was skippered by Mike Hayton and helmed by Markus Progli.

The Witbank Yacht & Aquatic Club (WYAC) won the first race of the day having led from start to finish, and were never really challenged. Their boat handing was from the top drawer and their tactics flawless, allowing them to stretch their lead at almost every mark, and winning with a huge margin.

Second placed Royal Cape Yacht Club (RCYC) led the balance of the fleet home.

The next race was a neck-and-neck tussle between the Royal Natal Yacht Club (RNYC) and the Witbank (WYAC), with the RNYC having the best start for sixth time in seven races.

These two slugged it out all the way around the course with never more than a few boat lengths between them, the positions appearing to be changing between legs, but the RNYC holding a lead at every turn. Coming into the weather mark for the final round it looked as if Witbank (WYAC) would take the lead, but what appeared to be a late decision to “be safe rather than sorry” saw them bear away and round the stern of the Royal Natal boat so that there would be no possibility of any rule infringement.

Nemesis, Orion DYP and Vulcan.

This was the small gap the RNYC needed and they took off for the finish with Witbank in hot pursuit. They split gybes and came back together without any gains or losses until the RNYC took their second gun at the finish.

The RCYC at one point looked to be in a position to challenge these two in that final race, but a poor spinnaker drop prevented that and dropped them to fourth spot.

In a gesture of good sportsmanship, the RCYC team lent the Aeolians Club their spare A2 spinnaker for the second race as the latter had torn theirs in the previous race and were unable to get their replacement from ashore in time. That’s the kind of gesture Sir Thomas Lipton, donor of the prestigious Lipton Cup, would have appreciated seeing, and something which he wrote about in the Deed of Gift.

At this point there were just three races left and two days in which to complete them. More importantly there was just a single point separating the top three boats with that single point advantage sitting with the RNYC.

Nemesis and Vulcan.

Day 5 was another of those spectacular days of top class racing. No quarter was given, no effort was spared while the crews gave a display which again proved beyond doubt that they are the very best, and that the C31 is a stunning race boat.

Race one of the day (race 8) went the way of the Witbank Yacht & Aquatic Club (WYAC) who slowly but surely edged ahead of the fleet up the first windward leg. They rounded the weather mark in first place and simply never looked back for the rest of the race as they took advantage of every single wind shift, every little puff of wind – and everything the opposition could throw at her to force an error. This was an error-free performance from WYAC.

Nemesis & Nitro.

Sadly for her the ninth race was not error free, and the error she made cost her dearly in terms of her overall position. Her third was not enough to give her the overall lead going into the final day.

Race 9 started in dramatic fashion with both the Royal Cape Yacht Club (RCYC) and Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club (ZVYC) boats being over the line at the start, and having to return before re-starting. This would have put most competitors off their stride, but it galvanised the RCYC guys into action, and they sailed superbly to take a comfortable second place. Despite sailing in third spot for four legs, they took their chances on the fifth leg, the last windward leg, chose their side of the course on the left and decided to compete for the lead from the RNYC team.

The WYAC team took a long leg to the right side of the course on that 5th leg, making the rookie error of not covering their opposition. They went alone looking for some magic which never materialised, and in so doing allowed the RNYC and RCYC to consolidate at the head of the fleet.

Royal Natal sailed well, covering when they had to and keeping the RCYC neatly tucked away in second spot at the final windward mark rounding. WYAC was third.

And that’s how they finished, again with just a single point separating the top three, and a single final race to go the following day.

That meant that the final race was going to be a crunch one.

That final race has been covered in detail, and the RNYC lifted the coveted Lipton Cup in victory, led by Davey James.

Some Highlights & Facts
• This was the 67th Lipton Cup Challenge.

• This was the very first time that 10 races have been sailed in a lipton Cup.

• Never before in any Lipton Cup Challenge have three boats been so close on points with just a single point separating them in the final three days.

• A new name will be engraved onto the Lipton Cup this year, that of Davey James.

• None of the five helmsman in this years challenge have ever won the Lipton Cup

• There were no “professional” sailors in the C31 fleet this year. All were part time sailors with a passion for high level yacht racing. The possible exception may be Asenathi Jim who was aboard the Witbank boat.

• The most successful winning club is the Royal Cape Yacht Club with 16 wins.

• Only four Clubs have won ten or more Lipton Cups – RCYC (16); Zeekoe Vlei (11); Point Yacht Club (10) & Royal Natal Yacht Club (10).

• The most successful skipper is Greg Davis with 13 wins to his credit.

• The only father and son combination to co-skipper a winning boat are David and Roger Hudson who won in 2005 when sailing under the Royal Cape Yacht Club burgee.

• The only father and son combination competing this year were Philip and Oscar Baum representing Aeolians Club aboard ‘Nemesis’.

• Having used the very versatile L26 Class yacht for 35 continuous years from 1984 until 2018, the Cape 31 became the boat of choice in 2019 – the 6th class of boat to be used. This year was the second appearance of the Cape 31.

• The smallest fleet since the graceful 30-Square Metre era was in 1983 when just 4 yachts competed in Quarter-Tonners.

• History does not relate, but it is assumed that the fine victory scored in the final race of the 2019 Lipton Cup by Nemesis (Aeolians), and mirrored again in 2021, is something of a record. Can they do it again in 2022?

The Future
The Lipton Challenge Cup is not an event one can simply enter as an individual as it is the only national interclub challenge in the country. To compete one has to be nominated/selected by a yacht club recognised in the Lipton Cup Deed of Gift. Plus each club, prior to the start of the Challenge each year, nominates the waters on which it will defend its title. The RNYC nominated False Bay for 2022.

The Lipton Challenge Cup has trustees who administer the Deed of Gift, and make decisions in terms of what is stated in the Deed of Gift.

Their role is not to determine what boat is sailed in future challenges, but rather to accept written representation from Clubs in this regard, and then have the Lipton Cup Clubs vote as to the future. It really is that simple!

It is quite sickening to see just how many people appear to be completely ignorant of these facts, and slag off the Trustees without knowing the facts.

Taking a cue from those who have called for the L26 to be reinstated as the Lipton boat, but in a revamped form, my advice to them is simply this – decide what form the “revamped” boat will take, get the class to approve it and the new class rules written, and then re-establish the class under these rules. Once this is done, and boats have been converted, then apply to the trustees for a vote on the subject. Of course noting that it will take some years before the newly revamped class is functional.

In my book, and someone who has been involved in the Lipton Cup since 1981, plus having researched and documented much of the Lipton Cup history from the 30-Square days right up until last week’s challenge, plus having recently written a history of the Lipton Cup, the event is all about excellence – no more no less.

This is an event which should attract the very best sailors and not the social types who like to attend regattas primarily for the social aspects and secondly for the sailing. Plus, and if at all possible, sail the very best boats available.

The 30-Squares fulfilled that role, as did the L26, but there always comes a time….!

For the last two years the Cape 31 has been the Lipton Boat. In 2019 it was a great competition with highly competent sailors competing, and the best boat winning. That WYAC victory in 2019 was not a runaway victory, and was won with just a 3 point advantage.

This year after just 1 point separated the top boats for three consecutive days in the build-up to the final race, the winner emerged a mere 1 point ahead after 10 races. That’s close – that’s very close, and that’s how the Lipton Cup result should be.

Sadly one cannot say that there was ever a finish this close in the 30-Square and L26 Lipton Cup era as the discrepancies in the class were so great that only a very few boats were considered good enough to win. In fact the margins of victory were huge!

Couple the above to the fact that the C31 is a world class racing yacht which has caught the imagination of yachties throughout the world. So keen were these internationals to get boats quickly, that they offered existing owners (read Cape Town owners) big bucks to part with their boats. There was a fleet and official Class in Cowes Week this year, boats in the USA, one in Australia, and an impressive order book from local and international owners.

This year, granted, the Lipton Cup had just 5 boats, which in some ways was a disappointment, yet it never distracted from the quality or high calibre of the racing. There were three more boats which could have competed, but their owners chose not to for their own personal reasons.

Lipton is not about numbers, as in its infancy in the early 1900s there were only two boats competing in most of the challenges! Lipton is about quality, it’s about the very best sailors. It’s not about mediocrity.

RESULTS HERE:  Lipton Cup Challenge 2021 – overall after 10 races