Rutland Sailing Club members saw off the challenge from national champions from around the country in the club’s home regatta.
Ignoring the dire weather forecasts of extreme wind, rain, snow, and high tides, 166 boatloads of winter warriors from all over the UK came to Rutland Water for this year’s two day ‘Challenge’ for the John Merricks Tiger Trophy.
The event was the final regatta of the closely fought GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter series and was one of the largest events of its kind in the UK, attracting many of UK’s top sailors including quite a few world and Olympic competitors.
The largest British lake managed to avoid the high tides and snow elsewhere and the sun shone all weekend but it could not avoid the strengthening south easterly wind on Saturday. The actual 10 knots in the morning was a lot better than forecast and at the briefing from Race Officer David Wilkins, this had increased to 15, gusting 22, as confirmed from his large and well practiced race team monitoring from the racecourse.
The fleet was split into two – a “Fast Fleet” and “Slow Fleet” with about 80 boats in each.
Three races were scheduled for each fleet.
By the start of the first fast fleet race, the wind had increased to 18, gusting 24, and progressively increased during the course of the race.
The some of the gusts were huge and, depending on the situation, incredibly exciting or almost uncontrollable.
The race team decided to finish the race after two laps for the fast and one lap for the slow boats.
In the fast fleet the 29er of Connellan/Alloway, Fireballs of Burge/Wagstaff, Batchelor/Clark and Birrell/Brearey and the 505 of Smith/Needham and in the “Slow” fleet, the 420 of Riley/Taylor and a great battle of the Lasers between Wetherell and Simpson – with Wetherell coming out on top followed by the Scorpion of McKee/Massey.
These were being pushed all the way by a Flying 15, Solos, Enterprise, Laser 2000 and others.
The downwind legs with big gusts hitting hard decimated the fleet – with 45 boats finishing from the more than 100 starters.
Then the AP over H flags (racing postponed return to shore) were flown after race one and no more racing was possible on Saturday.
The safety teams which included the local Army and RAF crews under the experienced direction of Dick Richardson, Rutland’s safety coxswain, were very busy rescuing boats who got into trouble.
In the evening the Commodore was presented with the John Merricks Tiger Club trophy, newly introduced to encourage greater club participation. A total of 78 clubs from all around the country were represented in the entries. When the Tiger started, John was the only RSC member to take part, this year they had the greatest number and it is hoped that other clubs try to take this Trophy away from them in the future.
Ian Walker had ‘flown in’ and he presented three Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing caps to Huw Farmer, Oliver Mills and Morgan Plant, first recipients of the John Merricks Sailing Trust starter boats administered through the RYA OnBoard scheme.
This five year scheme to supply some 70 Toppers and Optimists to young sailors at the very beginning of their sailing was introduced following a discussion at last years dinner when Rod Carr was the guest.
This year’s Guest of Honour was Chris Draper who won the trophy 19 years ago.
Olympic silver medallist and world champion himself, he spoke of his recollections of John and his recent experiences as helm of Luna Rossa in last years America’s Cup.
He reflected on the death of Bart Simpson in the event as well and concluded that sailors gathered strength from mutual support in adversity and welcomed the newest 10 year olds sitting next to him.
The weather forecast on Sunday was always better than Saturdays and so it proved with perfect sailing conditions for the two hour pursuit race in 15 knots of breeze with the odd gust to 20.
The Pursuit race started on time at 11am , a staggered start with the slowest boats starting first based on individual boat handicaps, with the Topper of Alex Hughes and William Russell remaining in the lead for nearly half the race before being overtaken firstly by the Miracle of Sam Mettam / Sophie Holden, then the 420 of Tim Riley / James Taylor and the 29er of Ed Connellan / Will Alloway. The 29er pulled past the 420 with about 30 minutes to go and started to pull ahead. Meanwhile, the RS800 of Roger Philips and Will Crocker, 29er of Andrew Kilburn / Hugh Ward and 505 of Andy Smith / Tim Needham and a gaggle of Fireballs led by Dave Wade / Tim Hartley and Musto Skiffs led by Richard Stenhouse were closing in on the slower boats.
With 45 minutes to go to the end of the race the fastest boats – the foiling Moths started and had to unlap themselves by 1.5 laps before they even registered on the leader-board. Simon Hiscocks pulled away from Chris Draper and he was flying covering a lap in 15 minutes and averaging 22knots when the average fleet speed was 8.6knots.
Coming towards the end of the race, the Connellan / Alloway 29er had a clear lead but then capsized as they were dropping their kite.
At this point, it became a battle between them and the Phillips RS800. At the finish, the 29er won by less than a boat length from the RS800. Andy Smiths 505 had cut through to 3rd place followed very closely by the 29er of Kilburn/Ward and 420 of Riley / Taylor. Past world champion, Wade / Hartley led a strong group of Fireballs and Rutland’s Richard Stenhouse kept his lead on Ben Schooling in the Musto Skiffs.
After the race, the race committee had to reconcile the finish positions from the six possible finish lines.
The Tony Everard Trophy from Saturday was awarded to Matt Burge and Richard Wagstaff (Fireball-Poole YC).
All the other results were dependent on the pursuit race.
The overall winner of the Tiger Trophy and winner of the John Merricks Pursuit Trophy was Ed Connellan and Will Alloway (29er Rutland SC) sailing for the first time together.
The Junior Trophy, for under-16s was awarded to James Grummett and Daniel Budden (29er Burwain SC) and the Shere Khan Trophy went to Andy Dring and Simon Laken (Laser 2000 Rutland SC).
The Lady Tiger Trophy was won by Val Millward sailing her Challenger from Rutland SC.
Nobody from Rutland has won the Tiger Trophy since John Merricks himself in 1996 until this year.
This year Rutland sailors performed heroically winning five trophies, including the overall Championship, Pursuit Race, Shere Khan for Masters Sailors and the Lady Tiger.
Plus winning the Club Tiger being the club with the most number of competitors entered.
Top 10 results were:
1st – Ed Connelan & Will Alloway (29er Rutland SC)
2nd - Tim Riley & James Taylor (420 Warsash SC)
3rd - Andy Smith & Tim Needham (505 Notts County)
4th - Matt Burge & Richard Wagstaff (Fireball Pool YC)
5th- Nathan Batchelor & James Clark (Fireball - Tynemouth SC)
6th - Christian Birrell & Sam Breary (Fireball)
7th - Henry Wetherell (Laser Beaver SC)
8th - Andy Dring & Simon Laken (Laser 2000 Rutland SC)
9th - Dave Hall & Paul Constable (Fireball Thorpe Bay YC)
10th - Ian Dobson & Ben Ainsworth (Fireball SMVC)
420 - Tim Riley & James Taylor (Warsash SC)
29er - Ed Connellan & Will Alloway (Rutland SC)
Fireball - Matt Burge & Richard Wagstaff (Poole YC)
Moth - Simon Hiscocks (Weymouth PNSA)
Laser - Henry Wetherell (Beaver SC)
Laser Radial - Daniel Wigmore (Grafham Water SC)
Merlin Rocket - Richard Whitworth & Emma Norris (Parkstone & Hollingworth)
Musto Skiff - Richard Stenhouse (Rutland SC)
Half of the proceeds of the event go to the John Merricks Sailing Trust, established after John’s death, the aims of which are to support youth sailing.