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McIntosh and Kennard crowned National Champions in Olympic 49er Class

Local boys James McIntosh and Phil Kennard won the 49er National Championships last week in Weymouth with an impressive display of heavy wind speed and boat handling. James, from Essex and Phil, from Bewl in Kent were already Inland Champions and were expected to perform after their recent International successes. As a result of their win the team has been selected for the RYA’s Olympic Development Squad and will be aiming to win Gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The week started poorly with the first day abandoned due to a lack of breeze, which filled in just enough on day 2 for three races to be completed. The boys, who do not yet revel in light winds, did just enough to keep their nationals hopes alive by scoring 12,5,14. The team were now be under pressure for the rest of the championship as they were in 9th overall.

Day 3 dawned with more breeze and McIntosh and Kennard definitely found this to their liking scoring 5,1,1,1 in the four races that were held. “We had such a huge lead in a couple of those races that we could afford to throttle back on the final laps and be conservative” said a relieved Kennard, glad to have some decent scores on the books. They had moved up to 3rd overall with two days to go, but catching the leaders was going to be hard as the team of John Pink and Alex Hopson had been steadily scoring and were over 20 points ahead.

The fourth day dawned overcast with the breeze blowing nicely from the South West. The first start of the day proved crucial to the championship as six boats were all judged to have started over the line and were disqualified. Included in this group were Pink and Hopson another top team, Ben McGrane and Jonny Clegg. In the resulting restart McIntosh and Kennard stormed away to take the race and the fight for the crown had suddenly become a lot closer. The next race was won by Pink and Hopson, anxious to keep James and Phil in check. The third race however was again won by McIntosh/Kennard sailing their Harken sponsored skiff with Pink and Hopson just behind.

Going into the final day of racing the points gap between Pink and Hopson, from Weymouth, and McIntosh and Kennard was down to just three points, and with four races to go the championship really was up for grabs. James and Phil would just have to beat Pink and Hopson in every race to be guaranteed the title.

They did just that. In a highly pressured start line James and Phil fired out from the pin end of the line to lead round the windward mark and extend this lead to the finish. Pink and Hopson scored a fourth place bringing the two boats together on equal points with three races to go.

The next race ran all to plan and the boys scored another emphatic win to take the lead in the points standings for the first time in the week. The wheels had suddenly started to fall off the Pink and Hopson campaign as they could only manage an 8th place.

In the third race Pink and Hopson really took the fight to McIntosh and Kennard and the two boats were locked in combat the whole way round the course. First it was McIntosh and Kennard ahead, then Pink and Hopson gained the lead going into the final lap. Round the top mark for the last time and the white and red spinnakers on the two boats hoisted at exactly the same time as the boats came flying down to the finish nose to tail, Pink and Hopson ahead. McIntosh and Kennard took the initiative, gybing off early into more pressure and when both boats gybed back it was even with Pink and Hopson having to make one ore gybe before the finish in the now increasingly strong breeze. On the line it was McIntosh and Kennard who just scraped through to take the gun ahead of Pink and Hopson. As a mark of how hard these two boats had been racing the gap to the third placed boat was over a minute! “That was one of the hardest races of my life” commented McIntosh, “There was no let up – we couldn’t let them win the race!”.

By now the points gap had grown and all McIntosh and Kennard had to do was to finish within five places of Pink and Hopson and they would win. The breeze was really up for the final race with gusts around 25 knots whipping the sea into a frenzy. Round the first mark it was McIntosh and Kennard who again led, with McGrane and Clegg close on their tail and Pink and Hopson just behind. Drama on the first gybe though as John Pink lost his footing during the high speed manoeuvre and the boat capsized. All James and Phil had to do was to finish the race and the Championship would be theirs.

The team sailed quickly but conservatively to the finish and were rewarded another race win the championship by 9 points from Pink and Hopson. Dave Evans and Mark Asquith were third with Ben McGrane and Jonny Clegg in fouth. “We are just delighted – we knew we could win the Nationals if there was enough breeze to trapeze properly – we just have to work on our pace in the light stuff”.

At the prize giving Phil thanked the organisers for putting on a great event and the team’s Sponsors, Harken and DinghyStore for supporting them. They will now have some time off before going back into training with the British team for the 2008 Olympic Games. One thing is for sure though, the rivalry between Pink/Hopson and McIntosh/Kennard has only just begun!

 

Photos all credited  to Mike Rice/www.fotboat.com