As part of the final event of the Thames, Vintage and Classic series sponsored by Craftinsure, Ranelagh Sailing Club hosted the Merlin Rocket class for this incredible race Downriver.
Along with Salcombe Week, this has to be on everyone’s bucket list of must-do events. Starting from Putney embankment the course is set to take advantage of the falling tide, racing down river past some of London’s most iconic landmarks. Once the tide reaches its lowest ebb, a buoy is dropped at the opportune moment with the then increasing flood helping the fleet on their return leg to Putney.
Heavy rainfall in the days leading up to the race resulted in a serious amount of river flow, fearing for being caught OCS and having to beat back up against the tide, the fleet opted for a Le Mans style start line, holding station on the bank of the river as the clock ran down to the 1 minute gun. (watch on YouTube here)
The braver amongst us launched in sufficient time to position themselves in the middle of the stream while desperately battling to stay behind the line. As the gun fired it was Duncan Salmon/Ruth Hanstater and Chris/Pip Kilsby who got the jump on the fleet, both reaching Putney Bridge before many of the fleet had even crossed the start line.
Kites were hoisted soon after Wandsworth Bridge as the river meandered Northward to take advantage of the SW breeze. Brother and Sister, Andy Harris and Sara Warren soon joined the front duo and the three proceeded to break away. Meanwhile the chasing back had condensed with circa a dozen boats all hoping for a zephyr to break away and join the lead group. Each boat had it’s turn but it wasn’t until Battersea Bridge that any opportunities presented themselves.
With the river turning hard right, those boats on the outside suddenly found themselves falling out of pressure, while those on the inside of the bend held the wind and benefitted from a shorter distance to sail. Main beneficiaries were Rob/Hattie Cage, John/Olivia Bell and Jack Norton/Matt Currell. The main losers were Chris and Pip who were cruelly spat out the back and Andy and Sara who fell into the peloton.
Turning around the leeward mark Rob and Hattie found some clear air and quickly established a small lead, no doubt enjoying the relative calm of choosing where to sail. Back in the pack the main movers were Alex Jackson/Anna Aylward and John/Olivia Bell. The breeze had built slightly with both helm and crew now hiking out. In these conditions both teams had the edge on the lead pack and were able to slowly but consistently eat away at the lead.
In the final 20 minutes of the race the breeze all but died, opening the door for Andy and Sara sailing the beautifully restored Crescendo, an early Holt designed banana boat, 14 foot long but with the front foot nowhere near the water, Andy ensured the rear foot remained in contact. Tacking with ease and gliding along across the glassy waters, eroded any lead the front 3 boats now had.
As they approached the final obstacle of Putney Bridge Rob and Hattie held a 3-boat length lead to Andy and Sara with Alex and Anna a further few boat lengths in arrears. With little to lose Alex and Anna rolled the dice, heading away from the favoured leeward shoreline and toward the middle arch of the bridge. Rob and Hattie sadly covered the wrong boat, allowing Andy and Sara a clear lane to the finish line and win. Odds on they would have taken the win regardless and certainly deserved to finish on top, adding to an impressive score line of four firsts in the Thames Series. John and Olivia and Oli Houseman/Egle Tumosa made a late charge storming up to the back of Alex and Anna in their own personal gust, however, they each ran out of racetrack finishing 4th and 5th respectively.
A huge thank you to all those involved in the organisation and to all those Merlin sailors in the SW/London, make sure to put this event in your diary for 2024.
Thank you Alex Jackson for the report.