|Wembley Sailing Club hosted the second open meeting of the 2017 Merlin Rocket Silver Tiller series on 19th March. |
The 'windy' forecast did not disappoint and for once no-one was complaining about the well-known wind websites under reading the wind. The forecast 22 to 32 mph westerly greeted the 27 competitors, who had travelled from Starcross, Chew Valley, Castle Cove, Blithfield, Trent Valley, Midland and Fishers Green together with our friends from the Thames Valley clubs. Complimentary bacon rolls and tea and coffee was supplied to all competitors many of whom were looking with some trepidation at the dark streaks if wind whipping down the Welsh Harp Reservoir.
John and Judy Gill and their hardy race team ran three back to back races with a long beat up and run down the full length of the Harp, with big shifts and gusts, providing conditions which were really on – if not from time to time over - the limit!
Race 1 got underway promptly at 11.30 and the relatively benign (at the start anyway) 20 – 25 mph wind was soon augmented by 30+ mph gusts, shifting around 20 degrees which had several teams swimming before even reaching the first mark. The long run down the Harp was similarly hazardous with boats sailing flat out under spinnaker with both helm and crew at the back of the boat – Caroline Croft and Beka Jones show the technique brilliantly in the attached photo. Unfortunately, the gusts were of such strength that two masts gave up the ghost (one of the boats was Matt and Anthony Greenfield who were caught on camera with things getting a bit out of hand) and with multiple capsizes 5 boats did not complete the race. Meanwhile, Rob Kennaugh crewed by Rich Adams went off into the lead only to be overtaken by Simon Blake and Pippa Taylor who were revelling in the conditions with Matt Biggs and Ben Hollis finishing a solid third, their combined weight paying off upwind.
As competitors finished Race 2, rescue boats delivered bottles of water and mars bars – as is the Wembley tradition - they were well needed.
The warning for Race 2 was sounded shortly after the last boat had finished and the fleet was off again into some seriously windy conditions. The black streaks of water showing the gusts had now been joined with white horses – and what pass for waves on the Harp. This time only 13 boats finished with a further 6 retiring, through gear failure (including Rob and Rich, so ending their challenge) or from capsizing and swimming too much! The 13 that kept going had to contend with 30+ mph wildly shifting gusts. It made avoiding collisions between beating and running boats really challenging, although as a testament to the skill of the Merlin fleet, there were no collisions. At the front end Matt and Ben sailed off into a commanding lead, chased by Sam and Megan Pascoe in second and Olly Turner and Sarah Bines in third.
By race 3, the wind continued to howl and such was the rate of attrition that only 9 boats came to the line. Olly and Sarah sailed off into a commanding lead only to be reeled in by Matt and Ben, who overtook upwind having brilliantly read the shifting gusts. Olly and Sarah kept after them down the final run but could not overtake and ended up five boat lengths behind at the finish. Sam and Megan came in third.
54 very tired but exhilarated Merlin sailors were supplied with the Wembley chilli con carne before the prize giving. Matt and Ben were first; Olly and Sarah second; Sam and Megan third; Andy and Phil Dalby fourth; Simon Blake and Pippa Taylor fifth; and Chris Martin and Oliver Maclean sixth.
The Century Cup, awarded to the boat brave enough to declare a combined age of 100 or over, went to Paul Dean and Nicki Della-Porta.
Having warmed up, the fleet went home having enjoyed a great day's racing thanks to the RS200 and Laser fleets at Wembley who ran the day and Anthony Rickaby the Merlin Captain who organised it.