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Merlin Rocket River Thames Series at Minima Yacht Club

By John Forbes on 9 Jun 2008 8 June 2008
Photos © Peter Halligan
A roller coaster ride for the Merlins at Minima
A roller coaster ride for the Merlins at Minima
The moment of disaster when Mike Stephens saw his rudder unshipped during the Merlin open at Minima
The moment of disaster when Mike Stephens saw his rudder unshipped during the Merlin open at Minima

It really was a roller coaster ride for the Merlins at Minima this year.

The course was on the straight Kingston reach, up one way, down the other, and the conditions were on the same north-south axis, a good Northerly wind, force 2-3 most of the time blowing straight in the teeth of the sort of solid 5-knot-plus current traditionally met on the river in February. All in the brightest possible sunshine.

The starts were nervous affairs, competitors having to keep moving, balanced between strong wind and strong tide, before the all too brief swooping beat down, with the heavy stream on the lee bow producing tracks almost straight into the wind, making for maximum excitement and a tremendous feeling of speed and power, followed by a skidding handbrake turn across the windward, downstream mark, which was quite tight for space and also demanded careful judgement, and then on to the upstream treadmill.

Some cut it too fine and hit the mark, others were over-cautious and left space for sharper helms behind to nip through. On the upstream leg the strangely warm North wind was generally strongest in the middle of the river, clear of the trees and buildings on the bank, but of course so was the stream, so there was a balance to be struck and at times helms were running straight up the middle in order to stay in a breeze strong enough to keep their spinnakers inflated. Then the wind would drop a fraction and everyone dived for the shallower water along the sides where the current was less strong. A fumble hoisting the kite meant coming to a dead stop, or going backwards while still making good speed through the water.

The upstream, gybe, mark demanded plenty of space to avoid the disastrous re-rounding demanded by the Minima’s local sailing rules, and then came the exhilarating rush back down towards the downstream mark just a couple of hundred yards above Kingston Bridge.

The safety boat took up station there, the crew reasoning that customers would be coming at them like space invaders with very little notice, if there was a prolonged fall in the wind at the wrong moment.

The first race, with the strongest wind, was won narrowly by Mike Stephens of Tamesis, who also won the previous day’s vintage event, and showed that even in conditions in which tacking was relatively infrequent an older boat like his Flinkidink (1097) could still show others the way. Sadly Mike lost his recently-repaired rudder when he was in strong contention to win Race 2, and retired, leaving the way open for Alan Markham of Upper Thames to take that and the final race, and the honours for the day.

In his speech of thanks Alan labelled Minima ‘one of the Thames’s best kept secrets’. The locals will tell him: it ain’t always this good.

Overall Results: (Eric Archer memorial trophy)

1st Alan Markham & Debbie Walker (Upper Thames)
2nd Ken Duffell & Brian Corking (Tamesis)
3rd Ben Archer & Chris O’Toole (Parkstone, Dorset)
4th Ben Marshall & John Wilkie (Minima)

Chindit Trophy (Vintage, sailed Saturday May 7)
1st Mike Stephens & Chris Johnson

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