Merlin Rocket Youth Championships
The hottest weekend of the year arrived, perfect for the hottest event on the calendar: the inaugural Merlin Rocket Youth Championships. Young sailors from many different fleets traipsed their way to Itchenor Sailing Club from across the country, some even making their way from the exotic lands of Scotland and Birmingham, and they were met by 16 beautiful (loaned) boats loaded up on double stackers. Word on the street is that Freya Lillywhite personally towed about 12 of them to the club herself.
We deployed the Merlin sailors to the boat park to aid with the rigging, as it turns out that setting up the 200 pieces of string on a Merlin is not intuitive, no matter how brilliant a sailor you are. Happy to report that most boats seemed to be set up correctly, although I couldn’t really tell seeing as no one has seen me rig a Merlin in about two years (thanks James).
The weekend then started with some land-based coaching from the incomparable George Yeoman and Rob Henderson, generously loaning their time and expertise, before the illusive breeze finally appeared and we were thrown down the estuary for a bit of on-the-water coaching and practice.
As a south-westerly breeze was holding, the race team swiftly set up a windward-leeward course and set us in motion. It quickly became apparent that the left was paying with Ollie Meadowcroft and Anna Aylward, James and Fran Gifford, and Alice Davis and Oliver Rayner among the boats leading up the beat on the left.
Ollie and Anna lead round the windward mark and maintained the lead to the leeward mark. There were some changes in position around the leeward mark as the more experienced Merlin sailors, like Chloe Willars with super crew John Tailby were able to navigate the drops more quickly.
Most boats sensibly went left on the second beat, fighting to judge the layline with the tide and shifts. The second run was more entertaining with more gybes, again allowing the more experienced crews a slightly easier time. Ollie and Anna stayed ahead to cross the line first, followed by Chloe and John, then James and Fran. The wind was just holding on so another race was attempted, but two general recalls later and the race team judged the wind too light and called it a day.
The Saturday night social took place in the campsite, with a very healthy competition between crews and helms - crews obviously winning. Those that were camping fell asleep to the well-known lullaby ‘it’s a shoe’, and Day 2 arrived with everyone looking extremely fresh and perky. Whoever said young people don’t get hangovers has clearly never witnessed this group of sailors.
The sun was back out and we raced to rig in time to get on the water, ready to sit and wait for the wind. Another tricky forecast for the race team as the wind was due to begin spinning around in circles whilst also dropping. While we had an easterly breeze they set another windward-leeward course and attempted to send us off. However, the youth had quickly learnt how to start races like real Merlin sailors and two general recalls followed. Under a black flag the fleet was eventually away!
Halfway up the beat the wind had a big 50 degree shift around to the south, meaning it was now more luck of the draw where you started off the line. Those on the left lost out whilst those on the right were now pointing at the mark. James and Fran rounded the windward mark first, and held that position for the remainder of the race.
The run had become a reach, without quite enough power to attack the boats ahead. The ribs swooped in to move the windward mark but James and Fran were already back on the beat so they didn’t have much time to lay it. It obviously paid to go right this time, but you were quickly on the layline. The resulting race was somewhat processional, as there was another reach to the finish and given the shifty wind the race team finished the race early. Hannah Carruthers and Isobel Stewart crossed the line in 2nd place, and Hayden and Freya Sewell were in 3rd place.
The fleet were kept out for another few hours to see if any raceable wind materialised but sadly all that turned up was rain. Some follow my leader commenced around the estuary as the race team gamely tried several options but none stuck and we were sent back in. As it turns out the breeze that took us in was the best of the weekend and we enjoyed a lovely reach to the club!
Our 2023 Youth Champions are James and Fran Gifford!
2nd place was Alice Davis and Oliver Rayner, also winning the first youth team, the first female helm and first non-Merlin team.
3rd place was Ollie Meadowcroft and Anna Aylward
4th place was Chloe Willars and John Tailby
5th place was Hayden and Freya Sewell
Thank you so much to In The Welsh Wind for sponsoring the event!
Thank you to Fernhurst Books for providing spot prizes for the event, awarded to:
Youngest helm: Samson Cross
Human outboard award: George Bender
Furthest travelled: Calum Bell and Oliver Maclean
Happiest boat: Tom Hartland Smith and Alex Warren
In love with the right: Will Wilkinson
Thank you also to Box PR and Creation Covers for sponsoring the event with some lovely water bottles.
Thank you to Itchenor Sailing Club for hosting us and to George Yeoman and Rob Henderson for coaching us. Thanks to our race team for dealing with the difficult conditions and the shore and house team!
Thank you Anna Aylward for the report.