1998 National Championship

1998 Merlin Rocket National Championships Report

South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club played host to the 1998 Merlin Rocket Nationals from the 6th to 12th September. Although Saturday's Practice Race was completed all right, from dawn on Sunday the event was overshadowed by the tail end of Hurricane Danielle which ensured a surfeit of wind, causing sailing on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday to be cancelled. Being a creative bunch the fleet made good use of it's legendary camaraderie and embarked upon a variety of alternative activities including golfing competitions, pony trekking, surfing, and others better left to the imagination. The forecast deterred a number of entrants and it was a fleet of forty five boats which competed for the Yachting World Trophy, over half of whom have previously, or could on recent form, finish in the top ten.

Two races were sailed on those days when racing could take place, and on all three days the winds exceeded 25 knots, with Thursday's racing taking place in a steady 30 knots, with correspondingly mind blowing seas!

Winners of the Championship were Richard Whitworth & Sally Townend who, after many years at the front end of the fleet, secured their first ever Championship in conditions which at the outset might not have appeared to be their strong suit. Sailing their four year old FRP Canterbury Tales design 'Flying Cloud', they performed with impressive steadiness to record three wins and two seconds securing the Championship by a margin of 5 points from their rivals.

In best championship tradition, the outcome of the event was decided in the last race. Former champions Phil King & Kevin Driver in 'Gangsta Paradise', having already won two races needed to win the final race to trump Whitworth & Townend, but while lying in 6th place on the final triangle they suffered terminal gear failure which obliged them to retire. In the meantime, 'Gilt Complex' (Will Rainey & Robbie Sampson), ultimately destined to finish third overall, were sailing away over the horizon to become the other boat recording a race win during the week. While counting a second and a third from the Tuesday races, they had blown their chances of a series win on the Thursday, when they could only manage a fifth and a sixth in the strongest of the wind.

Probably kicking themselves hardest were Nick Yeoman & Graham Williamson, who took the fourth overall spot. Having been consistently top five in the first three races, they revelled in the strongest breezes opening up a substantial lead in the fourth, only to pile 'Shooting Tsar' in on the final gybe, allowing four chasing boats through. They were pressed extremely hard in the Friday two races by Mark Barnes & Jane Beaumont in 'Moondance Assassin' who had designs on a higher placing, and having secured equal points with two top four places on the Friday, were kept to fifth place on countback.

Julian Parry & Paul Gilbert, and Pat & Jilly Blake took the next two places overall, both of them counting two top five places, but lacking the consistency which marked the first five. Pat & Jilly did however take home the Henderson Cup for the Highest Placed Team Related by Blood or Marriage, which was particularly appropriate, since this trophy was first presented in 1978 in memory of Jilly's father, Neil Henderson.

Other performances of note came from Charlie Hadfield & Ben Cooper from Shoreham who sailed their 12 year old NSM4 into the top fifteen, scooping the Old Boat's Prize; and Dave Townend, who shed his crew, Liese Ward, while batting down one of the 'big waves reaches' and managed to drop the spinnaker single handed and recover her without capsizing! There was a suggestion that if he could manage this feat, he need not have made the effort but could have carried on any way

Given the conditions it was notable how little damage there was to the boats, even in the older sections of the fleet, which is a testament to the robustness of Merlin Rockets and the excellent value that they represent.

The race organisation under PRO Aubrey Allso coped with the disruption to the programme with remarkable ease, and provided a memorable championship, from which, in the words of the new champions Richard Whitworth & Sally Townend, all the competitors have tale to tell.

Graham Williamson

Anniversary Trophy (U21); Alex & Ross Jackson 3355,
Neil Henderson Cup (Related Helm & Crew); Pat & Jilly Blake 3506,
Abererch Trophy (O45); Phil King,
Masters Trophy (O55); Graham Scroggie 3488,
Buttercup Trophy (Lowest place completing all races); Jim Hopton & Chris Downham 3477
Minima Cup (Highest Placed Lady); Sally Townend
Triangle Team Trophy; Hollingworth Lake SC.

Full results