The fine folk of Ranelagh SC, on the Thames embankment in Putney, welcomed the merlin fleet for the combined Craftinsure Silver Tiller, Thames, DeMay and Classic series event.
At the briefing we were reminded of the starting sequence, not to hit a buoy (the penalties for which are very great indeed at Ranelagh) or Kate (the very first Merlin being sailed by David Vines & Chris Martin). As for the course we were informed that there would be two buoys, that definitely were not Coke™ can shaped, that they were named D and B (not that it mattered because these names were not written on the buoys) and that they were going to be either red, yellow, maybe orange, or possibly a combination thereof. Thankfully there would be a lead boat. Unless someone needed rescuing.
As it transpired, the start was without incident and the two boats of Fran Gifford & Sophie Mackley and Rob & Hattie Cage made the best of finding clear air to move into the lead with a gaggle of boats fresh from the previous day’s exertions in hot pursuit. Thankfully there were no boats in need of rescue (for the first couple of legs at least…) so the presence of the lead boat at the first mark, somewhere near the Harrods Furniture Depository, reassured the fleet that turning back downriver was the proper thing to do.
The four laps came thick and fast, with the combination of a decent northerly wind blowing almost straight down the river bringing plenty of gusts and shifts, an absence of leaves on trees and little current due to the recent rain fighting the flood tide meaning almost the full width of the river could be used and there were plenty of passing lanes. A truly special day to experience sailing on the waters that gave birth to the Merlin class. Fran and Sophie extended their lead, with Jon Gorringe and Matt Currell pulling clear in second. A battle then ensued for third with Will & Rob Henderson, Jack Norton & Dave Royce, Duncan Salmon & Ruth Hanstater, and Mark Stockbridge & Charlie Cotter all trading blows.
So to the last downwind leg to the finish in Putney.
At the front, local favourites Fran and Sophie still had been reeled in by Jon and Matt just before the final windward mark. A tense final run saw Fran & Sophie gain lost ground, but not quite enough as Jon & Matt finished ahead by “this much” on the line. Meanwhile, the battle for the final podium spot was still going on. Will and Rob, having schooled Mark and Charlie in the art of breaking a loose cover to move ahead on the final upwind were looking good, but the boats all spread out across the river. Will & Rob took the Wandsworth bank, Jack & Dave the Hammersmith & Fulham bank, with Mark & Charlie, and Duncan & Ruth more central. Mark & Charlie found a good band of pressure to sneak past Will and Rob, who then gybed off to seek pressure that didn’t quite materialise, losing fourth to Jack and Dave on the line, and in doing so making it a Ranelagh 2, 3, 4.
Aside from the overall prizes, Peter Impey & Tom Low were awarded the silver fleet mugs, Stuart Jenkins & Ben Peerles the bronze fleet, and Fran & Sophie the gold fleet. In the DeMay fleet Rob & Hattie Cage took first, Stuart Jenkins & Ben Peerless second, Oliver Houseman & Egle Tumosa third. The classic fleet was won by George Tetley & Jack Hogan. Full results below.
Finally, a big thank you must go to the sponsor of all three series Craftinsure, and of course all from the home club who volunteered their time to make this event happen, in particular Brian Clark for his role as race officer, head chef and barman, and James Haywood for lead boat and keeping a watchful eye on the poor souls who became rather too acquainted with the Thames.
The Next Craftinsure Silver Tiller is combined with Allen Inland Championships at Llangorse Sailing Club on 22nd and 23rd April, with the next Thames and Vintage event, is at Thames S.C on 29th April.
Watch how close the finish was - https://youtu.be/g5kC6z2ql6A
Thank you Mark Stockbridge for the report, James Hayward for the photographs and Helen Edwards for the video.