National Championships 2005

Extra report from Richard Mourant on Tamesis Merlins at the Champs...
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Unfortunately, a north north westerly ranging from 25 to gusts of 32 knots put paid to any thoughts of racing. With current national champion helm and this year’s Salcombe victor, Richard Whitworth of Hollingworth Lake SC, breaking his mast after capsizing whilst out practising the day before, no one was in the mood to repeat his misfortune on the first day of racing. Any feelings of disappointment or boredom were cancelled out once the Commodore’s cocktail and fancy dress party on the theme of 'your boat name' got underway that evening. Scantily Clad duo Ollie Houseman and Catherine Ashley left just enough to the imagination and certainly made an impact in their skimpy naked print aprons, while White Rabbit celebrated the 1970s Playboy/Bunny Girl lifestyle. Other notable outfits included L’Enchanteur French duo, Florence Piriou and Anne Marchina, dressed as sorceresses, Simon Blake in his Zero Gravity home-made spaceman’s outfit and Smart Tart crew Alex Jackson looking worryingly appealing in his bespeckeled sexy secretary outfit replete with blond bob wig.

Monday beckoned with the prospect of two races back to back in compensation for the previous day’s non-racing. Conditions had changed to a force 3-4 west south westerly. With the sun shining and a sea breeze expected, people looked forward to a perfect day’s sailing. In the Vintage/Classic fleet, Passing Cloud was on the pace with a 2nd and a 1st, whilst in the modern fleet Wild Card played an amazing hand with a 13th and a 6th. Blue Velvet fared poorly with a slack jib luff seriously reducing her pointing ability. With a 68th in the first race, a broken kicking strap caused her eventual retirement in the second. By the evening, despite an all female dancing and singing trio performing in bikinis in the bar, the majority of the fleet were in bed, having been on the water for nearly seven hours!

Tuesday marked a return to the original sailing schedule of one race per day, a relief to all. A south easterly force 2-3 greeted the fleet and things soon hotted up with 12 Merlins being black flagged on the second start after a general recall at the first. Passing Cloud and Aloha were amongst the unfortunate group, whilst Blue Velvet did not compete due to her helm suffering from chest pains and nausea. A check-up at hospital gave Barry the all-clear for the rest of the week. Wild Card continued to impress with another 13th. By the evening, everyone was dressed up in their best bib and tucker for the 60th anniversary dinner, with commemorative framed plaques being awarded to past champion helms and crews, including three times champion helm Brian Southcott and 1961’s 2nd placed helm Ricky Walters. Four times champion Alan Warren of Shoreham SC commented on how nice it was to see so many pretty young ladies amongst the Merlin Rocket class and that the only reason he was still racing these boats was that he was sure he would finally fall apart if he stopped.

The balmy summer weather continued with a clear blue sky and a force 1-3 east south easterly. There was a general recall after much jostling for position on the start line, but this time it was Alan Warren and Laurie Smart of Shoreham SC who were both black flagged, only for video footage to indicate later that, at least for Alan, no infringement was made. Consistency was the watchword for Wild Card with another 13th, giving them 9th overall at this stage. The conditions were shifty, with short, choppy waves and it paid to know when to tack on those wind shifts. The evening’s entertainment involved beach games and a tour of the local Gales brewery. The lucky 50 or so, who managed to put their names down soon enough, returned to the clubhouse bar singing loudly and managed to drain the bar dry of draught bitter.

More blue skies greeted the fleet with a light and variable force 1-3 in the morning becoming a west to northwest force 3-4 during the afternoon. Wild Card put in another consistent performance with a 14th, whilst Aloha scored her best finish with an 18th. Meanwhile, Blue Velvet, having sought advice on rig set-up from her boatbuilder and sailmaker, gained seven places on the previous day’s race, scoring a 60th. It was also a good race for White Rabbit with a 24th, her best of the week. Immediately afterwards came the crews' race around Hayling Bay, resembling a classic River Thames event with short tacking along the shore upwind followed by a spinnaker run downwind through the bay to the leeward mark. That evening, the Ranelagh Trophy was awarded to the winner of the Champagne race that day along with a one-off 60th Anniversary prize for the 60th placed Merlin. Poetically and guttingly for Blue Velvet’s crew, this actually went to the 61st placed boat (3319) Absolute Madness from Upper Thames SC after 59th placed boat (3621), currently unnamed, withdrew after the race. With a bottle of champagne each for helm and crew, let’s just say we were feeling blue. Entertainment that evening, a crews’ and helms’ union involving a lot of drinking, an industrial strength length of tubing and a funnel - not for the faint hearted. Meanwhile, on a more stable note, music and dance was supplied by Irish band Squinty Mcguinty.

The final race of the week involved a force 4-5 gusting to 25 knots at the start, but quietened after an hour or so. Wild Card put in a fine performance with a 10th, and Aloha, having capsized at the start, leaving her last, reeled in a good number of boats to finish 43rd. Blue Velvet did not race, with Barry feeling like a well-earned rest. I managed to find a crewing job with Hampton helm Mark Fuller, sailing Lounge Lizard (3484). With the race over, a strong ebbing tide saw most returning crews opt to walk their boats along the shore. After 20 minutes or so, this was a lot harder than hiking out on those long beats. Prizegiving saw an array of trophies awarded including a special one-off for the furthest travelling boat. This went to French duo Florence Piriou and Anne Marchina in L’Enchenteur (2248) a Proctor IXb from Yacht Club de L’Odet in Brittany. An especially loud cheer also went to Rob Wilder and Andy Service in Wild Card for their performance in winning the personal handicap Holt Trophy. Entertainment was supplied by Cookham Reach helm and DJ Simon Blake on the decks with a mix of dance tunes. Spirits were high, and a beach party was always on the cards.
Despite much shenanigans that night, I’ll leave it to an extract from HISC’s management report to sum up the Merlin Rocketeers’ status at the club: “Finally, I would like to finish with the Merlin Rocket Class Association. This event has been one of the best that I have seen at the club. The class is an extremely lively and sociable class and have been extremely helpful in everything that we have asked of them. The atmosphere is relaxed, fun and very friendly.”
Three cheers for the Rocketeers!

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