After 13 years of trying, the £1,000 cheque to the first team to win all races at the John Merricks Tiger Trophy has gone to Andy Smith and Tim Needham, who conquered some fierce conditions in their 505 this weekend.
Some competitors were surprised when race officer David Wilkins, an Olympic silver medallist, decided to send sailors out for the three handicap races on Saturday. “David reckons it’s only 20 knots,” muttered competitors grimly in the changing rooms, looking as though they were about to sent out to almost certain doom.
“It was averaging 18 knots, with some occasional gusts over 25,” said Wilkins afterwards, “although most competitors had it at about five knots stronger than that. It could have been the dense cold breeze that you tend to get in the winter, which can make the breeze feel stronger.”
While sailors were tipping in left, right and centre across the reservoir, keeping the tireless rescue teams working full bore all afternoon, Smith and Needham sailed majestically around the trapezoid course with seemingly little bother. That said, even Smith admitted to three capsizes during the course of the day. “There was one at the end of the second race near the leeward mark, ended up teabagging Tim and he fell off, another when the spinnaker sheets went under the bow, and another down the run. But I think everyone fell in at some point during the day.”
Some ended up beached on the lee shore by the concrete dam, having to leave their boats there until there was time to rescue the equipment later. All in all, a big day.
In the evening there was the customary dinner to celebrate the life of John Merricks, the Olympic silver medallist who learned his trade on Rutland Water and who would have loved the big breeze of this weekend.
The following day dawned even windier, and there was nervous chatter at the prospect of the pursuit race taking place in high wind, with the exception of a few gung-ho competitors such as former OK World Champion Nick Craig. In the end, the race officer decided to call off the racing, although Craig went out anyway and put on a masterclass of survival sailing in his OK while everyone else packed up to go home.
Meanwhile, Smith and Needham were celebrating winning the Tiger Trophy and picking up the £1,000 cheque at a prizegiving in the brand new John Merricks Training Centre. This is a high performance facility funded by Sport England, Rutland SC, the John Merricks Sailing Trust and Tony Everard at Everards Brewery. John’s father, Dennis Merricks, and Tony Everard were there to open the new building and to present the prizewinners with their hard-won trophies.
Smith said he’d find something to spend the money on. “There’s always something to spend money on with the Five-Oh. Twin poles, I reckon, to make the gybes a bit easier.” Not that it looked like they need any help gybing the boat in the strong winds of Saturday. Smith and Needham have also won the opportunity to sail with Team GAC Pindar at the Cowes Week Extreme 40 event as VIP guests.
Runner-up to the 505 was the 420 of Chris Taylor and Caroline Croft who also won the Junior Tiger Trophy, with last year’s overall winners, Merlin duo Matt Biggs and Ben Hollis in third. Biggs and Hollis also win the SailJuice Global Warm-Up 2011, the winter travellers series that encompassed four of the major multi-class handicap events and which concluded this weekend at Rutland.
Thanks to Rule 26 for event logistics and site branding, and Everards Brewery for all the prize glasswear and Tiger beer for every entrant.
John Merricks Tiger Trophy 2011 winners:
Tiger Trophy: Andy Smith & Tim Needham (NCSC) 505
Junior Tiger Trophy:- (Highest placed Junior team.) Chris Taylor and Caroline Croft (HISC) 420
Shere Khan Trophy - (Highest placed team with combined age of 75+) Roger Dean & Dave Turner (Rock SC) 505
Lady Tiger Trophy- Val Millward (RSC) Challenger
Photo credit: © Tim Chapman