170 International Toppers from across Europe, Asia and North America gathered at Fraglia Vela Riva, at the northern tip of Lake Garda for the 27th edition of the Topper World Championships. The entry would have been even greater if the 50-strong team from China had been able to travel, proving the enduring popularity of the Ian Proctor design. With many recent Olympians first making their name at the Topper Worlds, the championships are always an intriguing insight into the young talent developing in this gender-equal single-hander.
Lake Garda delivered classic conditions for Monday’s opening qualifying series - bright sun, 36° and the southerly Ora breeze arrived promptly at 12.30, building to a solid 17-18 knots.
After a wait of 3 years, the first wins at the International Topper 5.3 Worlds went to Bobby Driscoll, IRL (Ballyholme YC) in the Yellow flight with 3 straight wins – an impressive result matched by Leo Yates, (GBR, Island Barn SC) in the Blue fleet, who also chalked up three bullets. Daniel Palmer, (IRL, Ballyholme YC) finished the day with a consistent run of three second places, ahead of Ed Smith, (GBR, Chipstead SC) with a 3,4,3.
In the 24-boat strong Topper 4.2 Championship, Calum Pollard, (IRL, County Antrim SC) dominated the first day’s racing, with a 3,1,1 scoreline, 5 points clear of Amelia Smith, (GBR, Parkstone SC), with Thomas Semmens, (GBR, Brixham SC) in third and Daniel Agius of Vikings SC, Malta in 4th. Daniel was originally entered to race in the 5.3 fleet, but a twisted knee injury sustained lifting an 8-year-old sailor out of the water the previous week forced him to swap boats with a Topper 4.2 teammate, despite being the heaviest sailor in the Maltese team, as he would have been unable to hike fully in the bigger rigged boat.
Racing around the robotic Marbot marks was a first for most sailors, and meant the inner loop of the course could be set in the middle of the lake, away from the influence of the huge northern cliffs. The outer loop was then nearer the southern shore, which did offer beneficial wind bends for those banging the left-hand side of the beats. The fleets arrived back in Riva exhilarated and exhausted, ready for a pasta meal and a cool down in the lake, with the promise of more of the same tomorrow!
On Tuesday morning the International Topper 4.2 and 5.3 fleets left the dock for the scheduled 12.30 start time in a light 6-knot westerly breeze, but despite the sunshine and 36° heat the katabatic ‘Ora’ wind that traditionally arrives promptly in the afternoon failed to make an appearance – local knowledge blamed a possible storm over Innsbruck! After the 18 knots of the opening day, it was the turn of the lighter-weight sailors to make best use of the conditions and take a turn at the front of their fleets, in the northerly ‘Peler’ breeze.
In the Topper 5.3 Yellow flight race, Liam Duggan, (IRL, Royal Cork YC) took the first race of the day, whilst Ed Smith, GBR, showed his light airs skills to come home in second, just ahead of Tom Driscoll (IRL, Ballyholme YC,). The younger and smaller of the two Driscoll brothers, dramatically improving his previous day’s scores of 40, 38, 18, recorded in the breeze. This was despite a 180-degree turnaround in the wind, which was deemed fair as the leaders were not majorly disadvantaged in the eyes of the Jury. Joe Rowe (GBR, Draycote Water SC) had a consistent day, scoring two 5ths in the lighter conditions, to go with a 2, 4, 23, from the previous, breezier day – underlining his good all-round boat speed.
In the smaller rigged Topper 4.2 races, there was not enough breeze to make a start practical, so they had to sit out the first race whilst the 5.3’s completed a reduced length course.
The 5.3 Blue fleet was again headed by Bobby Driscoll, (IRL, Ballyhome YC), followed by club mate Daniel Palmer, from Lily Browning, (GBR, Thames SC). During the second race of the day, the southerly Ora wind finally became established and quickly built to 12-15 knots, as dark clouds began to build around the surrounding cliffs, before dropping off again towards the end of the race.
Once the Ora breeze had built, the 4.2 Fleet sailed their fourth race, with Calum Pollard of East Antrim SC carrying on his winning ways from the previous day, this time just ahead of Ethan Rhodes (GBR, Warsash SC) in second, Andrew O’Neill (IRL, Royal Cork YC) in third and Amelia Smith 4th.
The 5.3 Yellow flight managed to get a 5th race in, won by Leo Yates (GBR, Island Barn SC), from Ben Paling (GBR, Notts County SC) and Liam Duggan (IRL, Royal Cork YC) but by the time the 5.3 Blue flight was halfway round the course a major shift plus the gathering threat of thunderstorms caused the race to be abandoned. With the wind now being killed off across the lake, the fleets headed back to shore, with the 5.3 Blue fleet left with just 4 races in the can, compared to the 5 of the Yellow fleet, which meant an early start for the Blue fleet to catch up a race the following morning.
Making a welcome return at the 2022 World Championships was the 4 strong team from Vikings Sailing Club of Malta. The very active and enthusiastic club led by Commodore Sandra Agius has introduced many local youngsters to sailing through their club Topper training programme and after a qualification series the top four sailors; Toby Piasecki, Daniel Agius, Andrea Vella and Gary Mercieca, were selected to travel to Riva del Garda for the Topper Worlds, led by coach Mathew Micallef.
Also making a long journey to Garda was Michaela Capolicchio from the Royal St Lawrence YC in Quebec, Canada. The 21-year-old Canadian sailor had never sailed a Topper before, but her coach had attended the 2019 championships in Medemblik and recommended the experience to Michaela, who as a petite sailor found the ILCA 5 dinghy she raced at home too heavy and hard work to race successfully. Despite jet lag from her long journey, Michaela really enjoyed the championships, improving steadily over the week under the guidance of international squad coach Adam Millington, whose services are provided free by ITCA World for all overseas sailors.
On Wednesday, the final day of the 5.3 qualification series the 5.3 Blue flight was out at 8.30 am to complete their abandoned race from the previous afternoon. After 3 general recalls, (2 under a black flag) the fleet eventually got away in a 12-13 knot northerly. Daniel Palmer (IRL, Ballyholme YC) took the winner's gun ahead of Lily Browning (GBR, Thames SC) and Bobby Driscoll (Ballyholme YC) - for the first time squeezed out of the top spot.
The blue fleet then headed back to the dock for a well-deserved break, before turning out for the afternoon’s scheduled 3 races in a testing Ora southerly.
Shane Collins and Craig O’Neill from the Royal Cork Yacht Club explained, ‘It was a long and actually a cold afternoon on the water – probably because we didn’t eat enough when we came in for the break between the early morning catch-up race.’ As lighter-weight sailors, they found the afternoon 17-18 knot breeze hard work upwind – having to use maximum downhaul, kicker and sail with the boom well out to leeward to keep the boat flat and gain traction upwind. Downwind the lighter crews held their own more, ‘You could pump on the occasional wave but it was hard to surf as waves were coming from all directions.’ Asked how they were enjoying the event, Craig commented,’ It’s been great fun meeting sailors from abroad and also from all over Ireland, it’s a great place and a real experience for us.'
After another two straight wins in races 6 and 7, Bobby Driscoll (Ballyholme YC) did the maths and sailed for home, confident that his three-point lead over Leo Yates was sufficient to earn him the race off and still lead the qualification series. Ben Paling and Ed Smith took the wins in the two final qualifying races, just ahead of Leo Yates and Joe Rowe, with Malta’s Gary Mercieca recording his best finish with a third.
Meanwhile, the Topper 4.2 fleet headed out for the first of their races. With the wind further right than the previous day, most of the sailors headed for the right-hand, northern shore to take advantage of the wind bend off the cliffs on the Limonie shore. Calum Pollard, managed to hang onto his prized yellow leaders’ bib, despite recording his lowest score of the series so far, a 7th, followed by 4th in the 7th race. Second in both races was Amelia Smith (Parkstone SC), with two solid second places to cement her into second overall position, 5 points ahead of Ethan Rhodes (GBR, Warsash SC)
After the Thursday morning briefing and spot prize giving, the Topper 5.3 sailors were split into Gold and Silver fleets for the first races of the finals series. The competitors all headed out to the race course in the last of the light southerly Peler breeze, but the first start for the 5.3 Gold Fleet was postponed for a big wind shift as the Ora breeze struggled to become established in the cloudy conditions.
In the re-start, Ben Homer (GBR, Dalgety Bay SC) got off to a great start to lead in 10-12 knots up the right-hand side of the course to lead around the windward mark from Rian Collins (IRL, Royal Cork YC) and Polly McMullan GBR, Draycote Water SC). By the finish, Joe Rowe (GBR, Draycote Water SC) had worked his way past Collins and clubmate Polly McMullan to claim second behind the Scot from Dalgety Bay.
The wind had built a little for the start of the 4.2 race, all bar one started from the committee boat end, then tacked over onto port tack to head for the cliffs - the traditionally favoured right-hand side of the Riva del Garda race track. At the finish, it was Thomas Semmens (Brixham YC) who took the gun from Ethan Rhodes (Warsash SC), with Harry Simms (GBR, Llandegfedd SC) in third, just ahead of Holly Norton (GBR, Parkston SC) and Jake Davies (GBR, Warsash SC)
In the Topper 5.3 Silver fleet, first home was Sarah Kiely (IRL, Royal Cork YC) from Alex Jones (GBR, Parkstone SC) and Zac Chappell (GBR, Parkstone SC). Interestingly, the majority of the top 10 were all female sailors, proving the gender-level playing field that the Topper provides for youth racing at this age group.
The final race of the day in the 5.3 Gold fleet proved decisive for Joe Rowe, taking his first race win and moving dramatically up the overall standings, challenging the previous front runners, Driscoll, Rawes and Yates who were finding the gold fleet competition tougher than the previous 8 qualifying rounds.
Once the boats were all back ashore, the real serious racing could begin for the Master’s Championship! There was a steady queue of parents at the regatta office window and considerable enthusiasm amongst the young Topper sailors who ‘volunteered’ their coaches and parents for the over 18’s Masters Championship race.
The Ora obligingly hung around to provide a testing 18-knot breeze for the 40 Masters sailors, made up of older siblings, coaches, keen Dads and brave Mums – ideal conditions for the larger Topper helm. With the windward/leeward race course set just of the harbour wall in the wonderful Riva amphitheatre with the towering cliffs and the town waterfront as the backdrop, this was stadium racing at its best. Spectators packed the breakwater with sailors cheering on their boat, enjoying the opportunity to support and assess their parent's and coaches' performance! With floating pencil marks sailing quite rapidly downwind, it paid to be at the front of the fleet! It was the perfect way to round off the day and a chance for all the patient parents that had spent the week waiting ashore to join in the fun and at last be able to say ‘I have raced on lake Garda too!” The winner was coach Greg Moreschi, from James Fitzgerald and Eimer McMorrow Moriarty in third.
Friday’s final races were scheduled for an 11.30 am start in order to fit the remaining races in before the 14.00 cut-off time. First off was the 5.3 Gold fleet, who enjoyed the best of the breeze, racing in a healthy 8-10 knots, with the fleet splitting 50:50 between the two sides of the upwind legs. First across the line was Liam Duggan, (IRL, Royal Cork YC) from Ben Paling, (GBR, Notts County SC) and Jake Rawes (GBR, Oxford SC)
The Topper 5.3 fleet was next away completing their race just as the Peler breeze was switching off. First home was Maddie Smith, (GBR, Parkstone SC) with her best result of the week, securing her a top ten finish in the Silver Fleet. Second was clubmate Zac Chappell, (GBR, Parkstone SC), ahead of Ireland’s Shane Collins, (Royal Cork YC).
For the Topper 4.2’s starting third meant the declining northerly Peler breeze only lasted long enough for the fleet to reach their top mark, where the race was finished before the wind died completely. First across the line was Thomas Semmens ahead of Calum Pollard, Harry Simms (GBR, Llandegfedd SC), Ronan Quinlan, (IRL, Waterford Harbour SC) and Marcus King, (GBR, Warsash SC).
Amelia Smith, who had not been out of the top 10 all week finished 17th, and maintained a close cover on her rival for the podium Ethan Rhodes, in 18th, doing enough to secure her silver medal position. Impressive skills from young talent that can only grow...
After a recalled attempt to start a second race for the Gold Fleet, race officer Paroli Carmelo, called a halt to racing as the fleets awaited the arrival of the afternoon southerly breeze, but it was not to be forthcoming. As the boats drifted around in the hot sun the race committee called up the clubs to the south to check on the wind conditions. There was no wind building in Bardolino, 15 miles to the south and with storm clouds hovering over the mountains to the north there was a risk that a westerly ‘Ponale’ wind could be created, with winds up to 30 knots blowing across the lake.
As the 2 pm cut-off approached with no sign of the Ora wind developing, the Race Committee hoisted AP/A and the boats were all sent ashore. With 11 races in the bag for the 4.2’s and a total of 12 for the 5.3’s, everyone had plenty of opportunities to press their case to get on the podium, with an even balance of wind conditions.
When the results were calculated, Joe Rowe (GBR) had performed the best in the finals series, matching the 22 net points of Ireland’s Bobby Driscoll and so took the 2022 International Topper 5.3 Championship on count-back by virtue of winning the third finals race. Joe’s result was even more impressive considering his 6th place in the qualification series, meaning he carried forward 6 points into the finals series, whereas Bobby Driscoll began the finals with just a single point carried forward. The two friends celebrated together on the water, standing on Joe’s up-turned boat, before taking the customary Champions’ dive in the lake.
In fact, the points were all extremely tight within the top 10, with just 16 points separating the first to tenth – underlining the high level of competition in the International Topper Class.
As soon as the sailors were fed with their pasta meal and rehydrated the prize-giving ceremony was begun on the Fraglia Vela Riva’s impressive roof terrace.
The Club President, Race Committee and International Jury were all thanked with commemorative gifts and a special Topper print, signed by all the sailors was presented with much applause to ‘Topper Russ’ Dent for his unstinting support and long hours fixing boats. Great looking, locally sourced trophies were not just reserved for the podium places, awards for endeavour, spirit of the event and for magnanimously helping others were spread throughout the fleet and age groups.
Generous support from Rooster and Ronstan meant the prize winners went home with armfuls of high-value sailing goodies, from Ronstan Clear Start watches and dry bags to Rooster buoyancy aids, kit bags and clothing.
Finally, the venue for the 27th edition of the International Topper Worlds in 2023 was revealed as the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven, Ireland. As an enticing video was played, Royal Cork YC Rear Admiral Dinghies Maurice Collins, presented an RCYC flag to ITCA GBR Chairman Martin Cooper to journey around all the UK events as an invitation to sailors to travel to Crosshaven for the 2023 Championships, to be held from the 24-28th July – we look forward to seeing you there!