Ranelagh Open Feb 2006
A cold and blustery greeting was in store for the 18 Merlin-Rocket teams that made it to the first open meeting of the 60th anniversary year, fittingly at Putney, where it all began. Five home boats were joined by boats from most of the other Thames clubs, and a few others besides. Perhaps because of the forecast, several previous winners of Ranelagh meetings weren’t present including Bomber Harris, Duncan Salmon and Colin Brockbank. Nevertheless, there was a healthy distribution of river talent in the assembled fleet.|
One race was scheduled with the turning mark about a mile from the Ranelagh line. A healthy incoming tide plus the huge variation in wind speeds around the course made for some interesting tactics, both sailing and surviving. The early pace was determined by the group of boats that were somewhere in the vicinity of the line as the gun went. Many were concerned about the strong tide and a large lull with 2 minutes to go prevented them from being on the start line. The Hywel Perkins’, reunited in the windy conditions, Will Rainey/Rachel Williamson and Phil Plumtree/Ellie Bremer were in the leading group at the end of lap one, with a gaggle of others hot on their transoms. This being Ranelagh though, the race was far from over!
Plumtree/Bremer in 1631, Splatter did a good job of holding off the newer opposition in the tricky conditions, but gradually the more modern kit managed to overtake them. At the end of lap two Rainey/Williamson and Rob Wilder/Alex Jackson had broken away from the rest of the fleet, with Antony/Frances Gifford and Judith Massey/Chairman Williamson leading the hunt. The Giffords’ performance in the race was highly commendable, having only recently purchased a Merlin, but their years of experience of sailing National 12s at similar venues was standing them in good stead. At the next turning mark however, Mr and Mrs Chairman’s charge came to an abrupt halt as they capsized in a huge gust whilst hoisting their spinnaker. This enabled Mrs Chairman’s usual crew, Phil Dalby, steering his in-laws’ boat, to overtake his helm. Now the race was really on! By this point Wilder/Jackson had taken the lead and weren’t in the mood to give it up.
The close racing continued with places being swapped all around the track. In the end Wilder/Jackson won convincingly from Rainey/Williamson who played a final joker in the last 150 yards to just hold out Dalby/Downham. Massey/Williamson nearly snuck ahead at the last when everyone thought they had been left for dust and the Giffords completed the top five. Mike Stephens overtook Splatter in the last lap – a burst of speed possibly prompted by seeing on the previous lap how far up the wheels of his car the tide had come!
Report: Chris Downham
Photos: Robert Harris