The 50th running of the Merlin Rocket Silver Tiller at Wembley Sailing Club sponsored by Craftinsure was a super affair, building on the success of the first open at The Hamble. A bumper turnout of 31 boats, the highest in some 9 years, arrived to a swinging and gusty North to North Westerley force 2 wind with force 4-5 gusts.
Race 1 saw a major wind shift cause a general recall and the RO John Gill to take the brave decision to move the start line further up the lake before the restart of race 1. As the fleet reassembled, it was Matt Greenfield and Hannah Playford from Wembley SC who led the pack at the windward mark. They were closely followed by Andy Davis and Tom Pygall of Blithfield with the rest in hot pursuit.
These two opened up a lead on the fleet, while in the chasing group Matt Biggs and John Hackett of Blithfield took a low course on the long reach from the Neasdon to Hendon end of the Welsh Harp Reservoir and came from 8th place to pop out in 3rd at the next mark.
On the next lap, both Davis and Biggs overtook Greenfield, these two leading into the finish. Third went to a strong performance later in the race from Ton Lonsdale and Alice Markham from Upper Thames SC. The rest of the fleet were never far behind and the big shifts meant for place changes throughout the fleet and a few dunkings for some in the planing conditions in the gusts under spinnaker.
Race 2 started first time and the wind had eased slightly. Andy Davis & Tom Pygall led from the start to the first windward mark and despite being constantly pressured by Ben Hollis & Caroline Croft of Blithfield, Duncan & Harriet Salmon from Wembley and Matt Biggs & John Hackett, they held on to win and take the event with a race to spare.
Despite the overall result now being decided, the fleet still pushed hard at the start of race 3 as the wind had built again and this meant that there were two general recalls with the final start getting away under black flag, which caught quite a number of boats out. Matt Greenfield and Hannah Playford again led at the windward mark. They had opened up a small lead of some 8 boat lengths which they held for 2 laps until Matt Biggs & John Hackett decided to take a low course again down the broad reach which took them through into the lead. Matt & John led from this point into the finish to secure 2nd overall in the event.
Meanwhile, Andy Davis and Matt Greenfield had a ding-dong battle into the finish line, with Andy taking second in the race by about a quarter of a boat length. Ben Hollis & Caroline Croft beat Duncan & Harriet Salmon into 4th.
The fleet then headed to the clubhouse for a well earned supper as the testing conditions had seen quite a number of capsizes and fair bit of early season gear failure.
Elsewhere in the fleet the Century Cup, for first helm & crew with a combined age over 100 years, was won by Mark Reddington & Colin Staite from Bartley SC plus the Best Newcomer award went to Matt Greenfield and Hannah Playford from the home club who came 4th overall in their first Merlin Rocket Silver Tiller event.
A thoroughly enjoyable day was had by all and there were prizes throughout the fleet generously provided by the prize sponsors for the day, North Sails and Richard Whitworth Sailing.