Round four of the Craftinsure Silver Tiller circuit brought the class to the delights of Itchenor Sailing Club. This jewel on the banks of Chichester Harbour has long been the home of the International Fourteen and has now, after seventy years of debate, allowed the Merlin Rocket to take up residence. This insurgency, led by our 2016 National Champion crew George Yeoman, has been met with enthusiasm within the club and delight amongst the class membership.
After an excellent welcome dinner in the club, the visitors woke in the comfortable club accommodation to a clear and crisp spring morning, with the first fingers of the promised north-westerly starting to tickle the still waters of the estuary.
On arrival at the race area off East Head, the warnings of our PRO Roger Yeoman about the challenges of setting courses in the harbour in a north-westerly became immediately apparent. With two breeze lines coming from the West from Hayling direction and the North down the Thorney channel, creating 100 degree shifts and some exciting vortices off the corner of Thorney Island, combined with a strong tide sluicing across the course, it was the sort of day when a PRO loses his hair.
Race One was about as bizarre as it gets. With the breeze switched to the west, Caroline Croft and Tom Lonsdale made the most of a chaotic start to lead round the first mark. The 'run' presented a new and entertaining option with most of the fleet raising centreboards and rudders and scraping their way through the shallows off Thorney Island.
After a further difficult lap of fetching high against the tide, Caroline and Tom still led on the approach to the line, where the wind deserted them and they were washed away from the line. Taxi and Pippa Kilsby, who have forgotten how to lose, arrived with their own breeze to snatch the win from Chris Gould and Chris Kilsby in their new ship. Caroline and Tom eventually struggled home in tenth. That is serious bad luck.
With more tidal depth in the harbour, Roger relocated the course to the south of Thorney Island where there was a truer breeze and mercifully less tide. Three more races were completed in what could be described as pleasant sailing conditions.
Consistency was hard to find in this tough fleet, unless you are Taxi and Pippa. They have started the season in a rush and by the end of the day had won 11 of the 13 Silver Tiller races completed this year. Wow! They are making a lot of very good sailors look decidedly average. Counting three bullets and discarding a second, they won the event by a country mile.
In second and one of only two teams to take a race win off Taxi in 2019, Sam and Megan Pascoe were consistently around the leading bunch and closed out with a 1,3,4. Tim Fells and Fran Gifford rounded out the podium with 3,3,4 ahead of Christian Birrell and Dan Scheiber with 2,4,5. Tim Saxton and Jodie Green were best of the home fleet in fifth with 6,7,8. Jon Gorringe, sailing with daughter Mimi in her first season of Merlin racing, was a very creditable sixth with 3,8,13.
Finally, on the sail home, the wind built and gave a beautiful three-sailer up the harbour to the club where the prize-giving was held on the fabled Itchenor lawn in bright sunshine. What's not to like?!
|Full Results can be found here|