Following the great turnout for the last RYA Topper training day at Rudyard Lake I thought I would write a quick blog post about our experiences with both the ITCA (International Topper Class Association) and the RYA last year in the hope it may inspire some of our aspiring junior Topper sailors to travel beyond Rudyard in pursuit of both training and race experience.
When we first joined Rudyard Lake Sailing Club, some 3 years ago now (click here for details of the RLSC Jybaz Junior Section), we didn’t know anything about sailing, except it looked like fun. When we visited the open day, our daughter Charlotte, then 12 years old, took to it straight away, I believe the phrase she used was ‘I want to do more of this…’ so we signed up there and then.
In June 2015 we attended our first Junior Topper event at Bassenthwaite in the Lake District, we didn’t have a boat at this point but managed to borrow a Topper from a good school friend of Charlottes who was also taking part in the event, and had a spare Topper. Unlike the majority of ITCA events, Bassenthwaite is spread over 2-days with 3 short races each day between 11 am and 3 pm, which left plenty of time for socialising with other club sailors and parents. At most of the ITCA traveller events there are between 20 and 25 Toppers taking part, this was the case at Bassenthwaite on both days with junior sailors, and parents, from clubs all over the region, of differing abilities from National level junior racers to absolute beginners like us! To be honest we did feel out of our depth as Charlotte had never sailed a Topper or sailed in a race before and we needed all the help we could get, but the community is extremely good at making you feel welcome and included, there is always someone willing to help, whether it is to show you how to improve the way you have rigged the boat or to explain the rules of the event. The outcome of this first event was us buying a Topper and Charlottes enthusiasm for racing leading us to travel to clubs and lakes we had never heard of before, it also provided an opportunity to meet some inspiring people including Olympic medal winners and high performance junior, youth and team UK coaches.
The change to the Jybaz format in July and August, providing the opportunity for the juniors to train in the morning and race in the afternoon, and the Wednesday night start racing sessions at Rudyard proved to be invaluable to Charlottes progression in honing her racing techniques.
Once you get into the circuit community, you do tend to see the same families at each event, it opens up another world of training opportunities, for example Leigh and Lowton run high performance race training events which cover three days of technique improving sessions which are not advertised openly.
The ITCA in the UK is split into several regions, I believe Rudyard Lake falls into the Midlands region, however as we live in Macclesfield we found we had a choice of 2 regions, Northwest or Midlands. As the venues in the Northwest region were closer to where we lived we attended events in the Northwest region, I would suggest you look at the calendar (link at the end of the blog) to see what suites you best.
The next step from the traveller series is the National level events that are held at various locations across the UK. This is an opportunity for the junior sailors to compete with all the other regional junior sailors and leads to a truly impressive site of 200+ Toppers competing on the same stretch of water. Last year we attended the Topper Nationals at both Carsington and Rutland.
Some of you may have heard mention of the Zone Squads. The UK is split into 6 zones by the RYA for junior sailors, again as we live in Macclesfield (North) and are members at Rudyard (Midlands) Charlotte had the choice of both the North and Midlands squads. I have put a link to the RYA junior squads site at the end of the blog so you can see what options are available. The squads offer high performance training to junior sailors throughout the winter months and normally comprise of no more than 20 sailors per squad. This year the North squad had 15 junior sailors. Charlotte was very fortunate to be offered a place in the North squad in her first year of competing.
In this blog I have concentrated on our own experiences with the Topper traveller, however, there are many more options for junior and youth sailors. We attended what is known as a qualifier event at Ullswater last year. This was a qualifier for the Zone and National squads for Toppers, Optimists and Feva XL’s (2 man). It’s great to see the other classes at these events and as all the juniors race the same course with three different start times, keeps it fun for the sailors as well.
A note for parents, you have to be committed to supporting and encouraging your junior sailor if you embark on this journey beyond Rudyard through the highs and the lows and in any weather conditions, but all the junior sailors and parents we had the pleasure to meet in our time on the circuit were having a great time so why not give it a go?
Final note, junior sailors must be under 15 years old to be eligible for the Zone Squads but entry to any ITCA events are open to sailors of any age, although they must be sufficiently competent to complete a triangular course in all but extreme weather conditions, and ideally should have taken part in some club racing.
If you have any questions, then please do not hesitate to drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some useful inks:
ITCA website: http://www.gbrtopper.co.uk/
ITCS events calendar: http://www.gbrtopper.co.uk/e107_plugins/calendar_menu/event.php?1462057200
Topper Zone Squads: http://www.rya.org.uk/racing/youthjunior/squads/zone/squad/Pages/Topper.aspx