Rhys sails onto world stage

Rhys Whitfield (13) from Muizenberg made South Africa proud at the 2018 RS Tera World Championships in the UK. He finished 25th overall and was the best placed South African that participated.

“This 2018 World Championships had a record number of entries due to a combination of being hosted by the country that manufactures the RS Tera sailing boat and it being the 25th anniversary of the manufacturer. It was massively well supported, and hosted by the amazing Olympic facility of Portland and Weymouth Sailing Academy, the likes of which us South Africans can only dream,” says David Whitfield, Rhys’s father­.

The RS Tera class drew 157 entries with the RS Tera Sport class (Rhys’s class) having 81 entries from nine countries, forcing the organisers to split the class into two fleets.

This process is called flighting and meant that the championships were split into two stages – a qualification stage and a championship stage. For the qualification stage the fleet was randomly split into two groups for the first three races. These results then gave each sailor a ranking, and a formula was applied to these rankings to split the fleet again into two groups to produce a final ranking after a further three races.

The top 41 sailors in the ranking went on to compete for the World Championship title (Gold Fleet) and the bottom 40 sailors competed in a separate non-championship event (Silver Fleet).

“The Championship stage consisted of three days of racing with three races scheduled for each day. After a terrible start and a disqualification from his first race on day one, Rhys finished the first day in last place in spite of a 14th and 15th finish in the two other races of the day.

“The second day of qualifying was a marathon 6.5 hour day of sailing with light shifty wind forcing the organisers to abandon races, reset the race course and restart racing several times. Rhys managed a 13th, 7th and 27th finish, pushing him up from 81st to 28th on the ranking and a qualification position in the Gold Fleet to challenge for the World Championship,” David says.

The first two days of Championship racing saw a combination of moderate to fresh winds gusting to in excess of 26 knots at times. Rhys finished 29th, 23rd, 24th, 18th, 15th and 22nd, moving him up to 25th position overall. Unfortunately the third and last day of Championship racing had to be abandoned due to high winds gusting to in excess of 37 knots and a threatening thunderstorm.

Rhys finished in 25th position – a very credible position and again the highest placed South African sailor with none of the other South African sailors managing to qualify for the World Championships.

“Sailing is an unforgiving sport and at this high level of competition the sailing was tight with most sailors finishing within a minute or two of the first place sailor. Each race counts, and small mistakes cost Rhys several points which left him a bit disappointed with his final result,” David says.

“Rhys gave his all, and although his overall position was the same as last year, if we consider these championships had a much larger and more competitive entry, I think Rhys acquitted himself well, he adds.

Rhys will be working with the coaching staff of Imperial Yacht Club in this next season to close, what is now, a small gap for a podium finish in the next World Championships­.