Merlin Rocket River Championships at Borne End Week
“A merry-go-round for third place”
By Mark Stockbridge with much appreciated contributions from Chris Kilsby, John Meadowcroft & Richard Pausey
Upper Thames Sailing Club hosted the Merlin Rocket River Championships over the late May bank holiday weekend as part of the annual Borne End Week festival that celebrates mayflies, camping, cocktais, sunshine, and some of the very best sailing to be had on the River Thames in equal measure.
Saturday greeted the competitors with wall-to-wall sunshine, a gentle north easterly breeze, and the prospect of an upriver committee boat start line to avoid a downwind start from the club line.
Race 1. The first race of the series, saw John & Katy Meadowcroft in 799 Keto lead at the first mark only to be overhauled by Chris & Pippa Kilsby in 1996 Queen Philippa aka “The Duck”, who in turn were undone by some crafty sailing in the fickle conditions from Alex Jackson & Anna Blake in Katy Lou. Alex & Anna and Chris & Pippa took first and second, while Chris & Jen Dodds in 3611 Rocketeer pulled out from the mele that was the pack to lock out the podium. Bar a merry-go-round for third place, this rather set the tone for the event!
Race 2. The pattern at the front of the fleet continued with Chris and Pippa duking it out with Alex & Anna for the lead, before Alex and Anna finally pulled clear to win. Lawrie Smart & Vanessa Pilon in 1065 Flipside showed their all-round boat-speed and mastery of what were to most some tricky conditions to wrap up third.
Sunday saw the same fabulous wall to wall sunshine and wind direction. There was however more breeze, but this brought with it large differences in pressure down the length of the course meaning ground was easily gained or lost to much glee or frustration depending on the situation each crew found themselves in.
Race 3. A new day, but no change at the front in this race with Alex & Anna and Chris & Pippa locking out first and second between them. All change again in third though as Mike & Debs Steele found something a little extra in this race to take the final podium spot.
Race 4. Uncharacteristically Alex and Anna didn’t have such a great start in this race but still managed to find a lane to pass the pack downwind, take the lead and sail on to victory. In the somewhat fresher breeze this time it was Mark Stockbridge & Charlie Cotter in 3727 Fragile, one the few modern boats in the fleet, who managed to break free from the pack to lead the pursuit until getting caught in handicap fleet traffic allowed Chris & Pippa to pass down the final run. Having regained their composure, Mark & Charlie pulled off some smart downwind tactics to get back past Chris & Pippa and then used their additional straight-line speed to hit the after-burners up the final beat to break the run of seconds for Chris & Pippa who nevertheless rounded out the podium. All change in third again!
With the two races back-to-back in the morning, this gave everyone plenty of time to prepare for the main social of the event, the (in)famous cocktail party. For those of you who haven’t experienced the Borne End Week cocktail party, this is a party to aspire to!
Monday again saw the need for sunglasses, though for some, whether that was to block out the glorious sun, or mask the extent to which they had enjoyed the evening before was unclear.
Race 5. Accounts of race 5 differ, but in this reporter’s memory Alex & Anna started towards the favoured end, Alex nonchalantly took one glance over his left shoulder, they tacked, and a familiar story played out with Chris & Pippa leading the pursuit and Chris & Jen running in third. Based on other accounts Alex & Anna were OCS and returned, but either way the end result was the same as all agree that Alex & Anna sailed on to their fifth bullet. Mark & Charlie seemed to wake up as the race went on, eventually overcoming the loss of tacking agility to make use of the extra leverage the wide boat affords to first overhaul Chris and Jen and then make Chris & Pippa just a little nervous on the final beat to the finish. This result sealed first and the Merlin Rocket River Championships for Alex & Anna with a perfect score line, and second for Chris & Pippa with a race to spare.
With first and second both secure, and pressing family matters to see to Alex & Anna, and Chris & Pippa both opting to get a head start on packing away. This set the scene for a final race showdown for the final podium spot with a single point separating Chris & Jen and Mark & Charlie/ Jake (Jake Gould having ably manned the front of Fragile on Day 1).
Race 6. John & Katie again flexed their first beat muscles to lead at the windward mark before deciding the conditions were a little fresh for the boat’s liking. Chris & Jen also found themselves in the leading group at the first mark and sailed off into an almost unassailable lead. Unfortunately for them, ‘almost’ was the operative word here. Mark & Charlie having got caught in traffic up the first beat started to make the straight-line boat speed in the stiffening breeze count and, having picked their way through the fleet, found a band of pressure on the final run to close up to Chris & Jen. Chris & Jen retained the lead until Mark & Charlie got ahead half-way up the final beat only for Chris & Jen to take it back, a lead they held until the very final tack with Mark & Charlie tacking underneath Chris and Jen to sail to the line and take the final race bullet and with it both the gravy boat trophy for the final race and third overall. Ollie Houseman & Egle Tumosa had their best race of the regatta finishing in third to keep up the trend of a different boat finishing in third in every race of the regatta!
So overall, your 2023 Merlin Rocket River Champions, and also winners of the vintage trophy are AlexJackson & Anna Blake. Winners of the Yves plate for the leading boat in the Bourne End Week regatta with no discards were Chris & Jen Dodds.
A big thank you to all the competitors, and to everyone at the club who worked so hard to put on such an excellent event. A few dates for your diaries, the Upper Thames Merlin open this year is on 17th September. Details of the 2024 edition of the event are still being finalised but the plan is for it to be held over the late May bank holiday weekend. Get next year’s cocktail party in your diary now!
The next Championship for the class is the Aspire National Champsionships from 30th July to 4th August. Entires are open! Championship Entry Page