National Championships 2005

Sponsored by:
Berkeley Homes website
In 1946 a total of 40 Merlins (not then joined with the Rocket class) competed at Hayling Island Sailing Club for the National Championship. That week was raced with sails heavily reefed with event winners being Jack Holt and Beecher Moore sailing boat number 16, “Gently”, walking away with the Yachting World trophy, Beechers Cup and Hayling Island Sailing Club trophy. Now, 60 years later, the class returned to celebrate their jubilee year with both the class and club having been developed beyond recognition.

Merlin No. 1 'Kate' joined in for the 2005 champs, just as she had back in 1946

With over 80 boats attending the event the class was evidently still as strong as ever, attracting a greater turnout than but a few other double handed classes. Given that all classes are competing for the same market of sailors, the excellent turnout is something the class can be very proud of. This is even more impressive when considering over 90 boats attended Salcombe Week just four weeks earlier.

The large fleet await the joy of a crowded leeward mark

Expectations for the week amongst competitors were particularly high due to the generous backing of Berkeley Homes, main sponsors of the event. Their support of the event allowed the association to celebrate the jubilee in style and we convey our gratitude to all involved. Contributions also came in thick and fast from class associates, namely Winder Boats, Pinnel & Bax, Speed, Batt, SailSport Chandlery and last but certainly not least Gales Brewery.

The first day of racing was scheduled for Sunday but with the committee boat recording a steady 28 knots gusting 35 knots it was a prudent call to postpone racing and avoid boat damage on the first day of racing. This did not stop a few of the competitors going for a “full on” blast around the harbour with helm and crew on the “transom action” whilst sailing off wind. Conditions were to worsen further still, but not in the weather department!

Dress senses deteriorated as competitors adorned their fancy dress outfits for the evening (themed on individual’s boat names). It was a little unfortunate that it coincided with the commodores reception, with his first impression of the class being based on images such as Alan Warren dressed as Harry Potter (boat name Golden Snitch), Pat Blake as a leggy blonde (Smart Tart) and David Winder as… well… David Winder (Attack of the Clones).

Guess the boat name from the costume

Racing commenced in anger on Monday with Sunday’s postponed race scheduled to run back to back. After the obligatory general recall the black flag was hoisted and the fleet got underway. Glen Truswell led the first beat sailing with his crew of old Jim Lowbridge. The pair sniggled away from the chasing pack and held their nerve until the finish although did not manage to produce a convincing lead, with the racing being tight. Dave Winder crewed by Jilly Blake took second with Tom Stewart aka Mr Puggs and Boggies notching up a third. The sea breeze clocked to the right and with the hours rapidly advancing many thought the OOD would can the second race.

However, local knowledge and experience shone through as the wind stayed fresh and constant from the north-west. This time Dave Winder took the gong from John Bell and then Glen Truswell. Overnight leaders, team Winder/Blake had 3 points with Truswell/Lowbridge on 4 points and way down the pack class stalwart Phil King had a rather cumbersome 9 points.

The following day the wind was from the south east and although the sun was out in force it did not track around to the right all afternoon. With such a steady and light breeze the fleet turned what brain power they had to working out the effects of the notoriously complicated tidal patterns in the bay. Oddly enough, accountant, Phil King navigated his way up the first beat too perfection (clearly he was under instruction form his crew). Hot on their heals were light weather specialists Richard Whitworth and Dave Winder who never let them out of their sites playing nip and tuck for the duration until, to Phil’s relief, he crossed the line in pole position.

That evening saw, for many, the highlight of the week’s social calender with the 60th Anniversary Championships Winners Dinner. With the likes of Sir John Oakley, Alan Warren, Barry Dunning, Jerry Rook, Spud Rowsell, Jon Turner, Pat Blake, Dick Batt, Mike Lennon and the unforgettable Richard ‘the Animal' Parslow in attendance, to name but a few, the fleet basked in their class’s history as we enjoyed tales of old from the many guests. A shame we could not remember any of them in the morning, particularly the real reason why the entire class was banned from Hayling Island SC after the 1976 champs.

Line-up at the Champions dinner

Wednesday provided another day of light airs with little notable wind shifts. The conditions evidently favoured the lighter crews, in particular King and Jenkins, who racked up another bullet with Winder held to second having been expertly covered by the winning pair. By the end of day Winder was on 8 points, King on 11 and Truswell 12.

On their return to the beach competitors enjoyed a free serving of beer through sponsorship by Merlin Rocket clubs Shoreham, Hollingworth, Hampton, Cookham, Whitstable and Tamesis. Once that had been finished a group of competitors left for a tour at Gales Brewery, as part of their generous sponsorship of the event. After sampling the delights the party reconvened at the club and proceeded to drink the bar dry of all Gales products.

The author, lost in thought during the brewery trip

Thursday’s race conditions were virtually a carbon copy of the day before and King was again to lead from the off. Previous champs winners Richard Whitworth and Mike Calvert finished second and third respectively while event leader Dave Winder fought back from an atrocious first beat to seventh. If he was to win the event he would need a bullet to seal it or finish fourth or better with King behind him.

Both Phil King and Dave Winder were noticeably quiet that evening and slopped off for an early night. Unfortunately they forgot to tell their crews to be well behaved and Linton Jenkins and Jilly Blake got dragged off to the crews union which, by sheer coincidence, coincided with the Champagne race. Consequently, with some 42 bottles of bubbly floating around, the crews union was a fully turbo charged affair. The union must admit a certain level of guilt with regard to Mrs Blake falling off her pushbike - we told her she would not like sambuca!

Friday morning dawned and a fresh north westerly greeted the fleet. These blustery conditions produced a different set of front runners with Tom Stewart and Glen Truswell storming off for a private competition for the gong. Eventually Stewart took the glory, however, more importantly further down the fleet Winder narrowly missed out on a fourth or better finishing sixth. The crown yet again went to Phil King, nine times winner of the event and undisputed most successful Merlin sailor of all time.

Phil and Linton survey their booty

Prize giving ensued and after the usual kind words and thanks from the victors the party was reinstated with team Sworded Fish (Simon Blake of recent 1720 notoriety), providing the entertainment with his own unique style of DJ-ing.

The Champs exceeded all expectations with fantastic sailing, race management, entertainment and socials. If Hayling Island let us, we will be back...perhaps for our 75th?

Report: Alex Jackson
Photos: Stuart Gurney & others

See also:
      Various Photo Galleries
      Letter from a happy crew
      Report from the Tamesis point-of-view
      Results - Main Championships
      Results - Holt Plate Handicap
      Results - Vintage Wing
      Results - Crews Race