National Championships 2006With Salcombe Week still fresh in our memories the Merlin fleet headed off to glorious Tenby for yet another week of hotly contested racing.
We last went to the club back in 2001 where we partook in lots of naked cliff jumping, funnels and shaving barmaid Lara’s hair completely off. So expectations were high - could the club deliver the same level of antics? After Saturday night, when I found one of my housemates asleep in the middle of the road when walking home, I had the sneaking suspicion that yes, the venue was indeed up for the challenge.
So there we were again, day 1 of the champs, with a bumper turn out of Merlins, fitted with the latest techno wizardry from Team Winder, that headed out to start launching from the sheltered sandy beaches below the town’s stunning cliff line. In the words of Cilla Black….. ‘surprise surprise’…… with a first start general recall the fleet were called back to be started under a black flag.
The front runners all made good first beats with Stewart, Warren Jnr, Winder, Truswell and Bell all in the hunt. These front runners all lost a few and gained a few over the following laps without any significant changes. The only exception to this pack were the young pretenders, Bithel and Mee, who made huge gains after a rather shaky start. It was noticeable on the runs where they took the most places, as they literally hunted down the pressure, reaching off at times to get into it. This concentration and persistence rewarded them with a race win ahead of many well established Merlin hot shots. I am delighted to say their race win upset a good number in the process……I mean, the audacity of such youth, outrageous!
On return to the bar that afternoon all talk was focused on the young lads, fresh out of primary school. They had not only mastered their “three Rs”, but also how do get the better of more than 10 previous national champions……top of the class for these boys.
The free afternoon also gave us the opportunity to perfect our fancy dress costumes for the evening event, with everyone adorning outfits in keeping with their boat names. Sadly there were some absolute shockers to be seen walking around Tenby later that evening, with an unprecedented number of cross-dressers and a good number of nurses uniforms. There was of course the odd exception. God bless Scroggie Snr for naming his boat ‘Raunchy’, we salute you. To say the club ‘kicked off’ would be the under statement of the year, with a local band providing the entertainment and closing with an outstanding five encores - we had a whale of a time. Apologies must go at this point to all the bar stuff for being exposed to excessive levels of drunken human flesh - evidently there are a few exhibitionists in the fleet.
Day 3, hmm, what happened last night? Well whatever happened happened, and we could not do anything about it now so on with the job in hand: two races back to back. The first got away cleanly under a black flag although there were a vast number of boats OCS who were not caught by the race committee. The race saw Dave Winder and Jilly Blake, Salcombe Week winners, lead from the off with Mike and Jane Calvert chasing them for the full duration of the race, seemingly attached to their transom with a piece of shock-cord. The order was held to the finish with Winder taking honours over Calvert, ahead of Bell third. 49er sailor, John Pink, finished fourth sailing with his new lady, Rachel Williamson, who provided him a boat and a crew for the week, lucky man.
By the time the race committee had adjusted the course appropriately for the second race, the sea breeze had built significantly to a gutsy force 4. Those who remembered 2001 banged the right hand corner up the first beat and were rewarded with a good early lead. William Warren rounded first and was to be followed by Dave Winder if it was not for father Alan Warren coming in on port and forcing Dave to tack off. Alan then dutifully proceeded to do his penalty turns on the windward mark causing yet further mayhem and chaos to the chasing pack. Hence by the time the second boat was round Will was half-way down the first reach, powering off towards the gybe mark. See - old people do still serve a purpose in society, namely nobbling the competition for their children’s benefit.
Dave and Jilly did however manage to close the gap on Will and Chris, but not by much, so it was Will who took glory and his first ever Championship race win. Dave came second, those pesky kids Bithel and Mee third, and Simon Blake sailing the mighty Rong Number in fourth.
Following a hard day’s racing, and an even harder evening the night before, the bar was unsurprisingly quiet with competitors opting to recharge those batteries and bodies, stocking up on carbohydrates and plenty of nap time.
The evening witnessed half the fleet disappearing off to a civilised and sophisticated meal, at one of the many fine local dining establishments. For the rest of us pikies and students, we opted for the local chippie and half a dozen pints of snakebite. As expected though, we all reconvened at the club and partied the night away to yet more live music courtesy of a super star DJ. Again there was more flesh on show with an unusually high level of male bonding. However, soon after the girls started taking their tops of too, we relinquished these tendencies and reverted to our lecherous selves.
And so to the penultimate day of racing, the top spot was still up for grabs with Warren Jnr, Winder, Stewart and Bithel the keen favourites. Yet again the wind was from the North of the cliffs but this time the course was slightly further out, providing a marginally more stable breeze. Nevertheless, the bend off the shore coming in to the windward mark, was still evident. Port tack would occasional grant you a lee bow up the beats and so getting the shifts right was even more crucial. If you found yourself on the wrong side of one you could lose out big time. Evidently though, this was something Stewart and Warren Jnr had got sussed as they both arrived at the windward mark together with a comfortable lead. The order stuck for the duration of the racing. The big winner for the day was Alan Warren who clambered his way up to third making incredible gains on the beats. Was he trying to beat his son or merely urge him on to go even faster? Glen Truswell of Laser Sail Boats recorded a fourth, and Simon Blake a fifth, evidently finding his legs somewhat better with his new boat and crew.
The main race was followed by the inaugural crews race, with a full championship sized course awaiting the competitors. I suspect the helms who were now crewing breathed a sigh of relief that they only had to crew and therefore hike for one triangle and beat to the finish. For the last two years Mr Liam Dempsey has stormed to victory. However this year we had young Matthew Mee to contend with, GP14 National Champion and a third at the Europeans. The safe money was on him. From the off it was Mee, Tom Jefferies of Speed Sails and Chris Downham who looked like they were up for glory. Everyone rounded the windward mark within a few minutes of each other and soaked off down a deep reach in a moderate force 2 to 3. The bottom reach was considerably tighter and for those that noticed the dark line of breeze coming down opted to go as high as possible early on. A few did not and came unstuck towards the leeward mark. Downham tried to prevent Toogood reaching over the top with an overly aggressive luff that saw him pirouette around facing back up the reach head on with a fleet of untalented helms all out of control in the new force 4 breeze. The last beat saw some big gains, Alex Jackson had gained massively on the bottom reach thanks mostly to his crew’s spinnaker work. Francis Gifford had overtaken Liam, her hubby for the week, and Toogood was up to third. At the finish Jefferies took first just ahead of Mee while Jackson snuck ahead of Toogood snatching third by a couple of boat lengths. Dempsey’s crown had been taken not by Mee as suspected, but by Tom Jefferies, virgin Merlin sailor - good effort!
Much comedy banter ensued at the bar, predominantly focusing on how just inept crews are at helming and helms at crewing. We all agreed never to switch roles again or, at least, not until next year.
So to Friday and the last day of competition. Warren Jnr only needed a sixth to secure overall victory while Stewart and Bithel both needed a bullet and poor results from their opponents. For those that know William this is a man who does not like pressure. He can be leading a race by a couple of hundred yards and suddenly do something completely erratic, and downright stupid, like falling over and snapping his rudder, hitting marks when he has the entire ocean to play with, or simply just slowing down so he can chat with his old man to ask him what to do next. Either way I put my money on him exploding on lap 3 and finishing one million and eighty seventh. He did not explode the jammy bugger and got fourth and, with it, title of National Champion.
After a rather emotional moment with his father on the beach (four times winner of the Merlin Champs and Olympic Silver medallist) he and his crew proceeded to do what any other normal victors would do - drink! The ensuing speech was pure comedy in a bottle; who thought that little William could be so funny, and as for Robinson, his words will never leave me – “don’t worry my speech won’t be too long, number one I’m rubbish at them and number two I need to go for a wee” - genius!
Possibly one of the most popular victories in recent years, William and Chris have only been sailing together for little over a season. William was trained by wrinkly ninja Alan who has probably forgotten more about sailing than we will ever know, while Chris has had the full Hollingworth school of excellence treatment, and grown to be one of the fleet’s best crews. The pair’s relentless training and practice at Shoreham Sailing Club, acknowledged as the best sea sailing venue on the South Coast, paid dividends as they sailed a near faultless week in a fleet where mistakes will cost you dearly.
Report: Alex Jackson & Paul Davies
Photos: Tenby SC
Results - Main Championships
Results - Special Trophies