National Championships 2005

"I wish there was a Merlin class in Hong Kong" - letter recieved from Andy Service
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Wow! Where do I start? What a week, what a championship and what a boat!
First a big thank you to Rob Wilder my helm for making it all happen and especially for easily persuading me way back in January that this would be the best championship week to sail in 2005, especially it being marked by the classes 60th anniversary.

How lucky was I after flying in from Boston after watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park, I mean attending the Laser 4.7 Worlds (yes I am too old to sail one of these) in Barrington, Rhode Island to find that the first days racing had been blown off.

It would have been some initiation to have stepped into a Merlin blowing 30 plus knots especially with a little bit of jet lag, a mere 5 hour time difference between the states and Britain. No sweat! Also the thought of stepping into a very unfamiliar boat “Wild Card” which I had never before stepped in was very daunting. You should have seen us on the first day tacking and me picking up the spinny sheet as it seemed to be in the right place, what a nightmare or what a laugh! Also the last time I sailed a Merlin was some 2 years previously with Boris at Salcombe and the very fact that the last time I had stepped into a 2 man sailing boat at all was several months ago which happened to be a Scorpion at the Blackpool Eskimo Trophy at Christmas 2004 in a howling gale. And when did I last sail with Rob? Was it 1998 at the B 14 Worlds (not too long ago then).
Just a small challenge ahead as I am sure you will agree.

No worries the adrenalin will kick in at the start and I will be absolutely fine, I thought. I had been looking so forward to sailing in a large fleet again I couldn’t wait. I was really pumped up.

Couldn’t get more of a challenge than a 2 race day to get things started. Would I be fit enough? It’s not like I am 21 anymore, the sure thing I guess was that I wouldn’t have any problem sleeping the forthcoming night.

Bonus and quote of the day was telling Rob going up the first beat of race 2 after Steve Cockerill had clearly won the start, “Sorry to tell you mate but we are going to be first around this mark”. Lesson from the day was learning how to sit to leeward when running downwind, it’s a good job we changed roles on the way in as we clearly found it evident our downwind running problem.

The next 3 days of “power up racing” were probably some of the hardest racing I have ever endured. First the conditions were extremely demanding in the sense of trying to generate max power and keeping the boat moving and on the pace. And secondly the competition was red hot and the depth of it just goes on, (you just need to read the entry list). If you were down in the late 20’s, it was extremely difficult to try and pull through with everybody going a similar speed and there wasn’t too many big shifts around which made the going even more difficult.

The big difference I noted was that the National Champs boat “The Ministry of Pleasure” appeared to be fully powered up before anybody else and they were hiking flat out a lot sooner than anyone else when the majority of us were just perched on the deck or even sitting inside. I would attribute this factor to Linton being a flyweight crew, probably guessing at tipping the scales at 8 stones wet through. Next year if the forecast is light we will all need to hit the Atkins Diet to remedy this fact so we can all compete on a level playing field.

One other thing I noticed, every time you made a mistake you got passed, that says something about the competition in this fleet.

Another mighty challenge was those huge courses which were full on, I hadn’t done that kind of racing since 1991 (my last days sailing Enter boxes), but even these were much longer by a run and a beat. How would the brain cope or even the body parts hang on for this duration. “Don’t be a wimp and hang out there boy” I kept telling myself! After talking to one of my fireball buddies who has just taken up Finn sailing, he reminded me of the fact that after a very hard weekend of Olympic sailing he could hardly walk the next day. I had a lie down in the boat on the way in, what state would I be in the next day?

After being use to the Olympic trapezoid format and races lasting between 55 – 80 minutes I have to say that I really enjoyed the long course racing and I hope the Merlin class continues with this tradition as it is truly unique. I thought the reaches were pretty broad and I distinctively remembering having to gybe (on the second reach) in one race to get to the leeward mark. I then heard that because the Merlin now has a bigger kite, the reaches have been made broader to compensate. I don’t know how true this is, but we didn’t really get any wild rides downwind as much as I was hoping for. I think a lot of people enjoy their sailing more if they can have a good old blast off-wind.

From a sailing point of view, I can’t understand why more people don’t sail the boat, it is probably one of the most advanced dinghies of it’s time with that 1-string raking system and they are just so amazing to sail. I am sure they will catch on even more.

I found the class extremely friendly and from observing the goings on in the bar, they certainly know how to party with a funnel. I will always remember this championship for the winning helms speech which I found rather fascinating but a little long winded (yes 20 minutes). Phil certainly did his talking on the water and you would have thought that on winning his umpteenth Merlin title he would have had this off to a fine art as well. May be some lessons in public speaking are in store and where did you get those jokes?

I hope it won’t be too long in the distant future before I get another sail in a Merlin, I only wish there was a fleet near me. Finally a big thanks to all who made it happen at Hayling, the people behind the scenes our unsung heroes did us all proud.

A little thought or two on the next champs, would displaying bow numbers help the black flag situation and if you had an I.J. out on the water it might stop some breaches of rule 42. If one or two people got yellow flagged it could calm matters down.

Best Regards Wizards

See also:
      Race Report
      Various Photo Galleries
      Results - Main Championships
      Results - Holt Plate Handicap
      Results - Vintage Wing
      Results - Crews Race