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Selden Merlin Rocket National Championship - Runners & Riders

by Tim Fells 9 Aug 2016 17:30 BST 14-19 August 2016
Merlin Rocket nationals at Penzance day 1 © Tom Gruitt /

In the class's 70th anniversary year, the Merlin Rocket National Championship, sponsored by Selden, will be hosted by Penzance Sailing Club from 14th to 19th August. Raced on the wonderful sailing waters of Mounts Bay, we will again see the cream of UK dinghy sailing talent going head to head.

Our reigning National Champion, Ben Saxton, will have bigger and better things on his mind in Rio and we will all be cheering Ben and Nicola on for a Gold Medal in the Nacra17. In Ben's absence, expectations are that the overall title will be fought out between three exceptional teams:

  • 2010, 2012 and 2014 Merlin Champion and 470 Olympic Silver medal winning crew, Stu Bithell, having narrowly missed out on the 49er slot for Rio, will be returning with super-crew Tom Pygall to keep the even year win sequence going. They will be sailing Tom's Winder Canterbury Tales Mark 5 'Night Fury' which has looked pretty quick on its few outings to date.

  • 2013 Champions, Nick Craig and Alan Roberts, will be debuting their new Jon Turner Genii, 'Messy Monty', which they have spent the last six months stress testing to the point of race readiness. It will be very interesting to see how they go against the Winders.

  • 2011 Champion, Andy Davis, recently on fire with wins at Salcombe Merlin Week and the Solo Nationals, will be back with Alex Warren and their proven Winder CT Mark 4, 'Keyser Soze', which seems to be even quicker since they changed to a Selden skinny high-mod mast.

The depth of talent behind these three is extraordinary and any one of the following could shake up the top order:

  • 2007 and 2008 Champions, Roger Gilbert and James Stewart, who are consistently at the sharp end of the fleet.
  • Multi-Champion Ben McGrane who, with wife Roz, were second last year in Whitstable.
  • 2006 Champion, William Warren, who has recaptured his old form and teamed up with Chris Downham – they have won every event they have ever sailed together!
  • Simon Potts and Ali Martin who, with a new CT Mark 5 on the water this year, must be the most practiced team at the event and have been showing speed across all conditions.
  • Tim Fells and Oli Wells, third last year and vastly experienced at the front end of many different classes.
  • Olly Turner and Graham Sexton, very quick and hugely committed and knocking on the podium door (if podiums have doors).
  • Chris Gould and Chris Kilsby, who have been destroying all comers on the open meeting circuit.
  • Dave Winder, who has put together a Canterbury Tales Mark 6 - a flat out sea machine - and will be back with long term crew, Pippa Taylor, both dreaming of a windy reach to put the pedal down.
  • Sam Barker has taken over the stick from Sam Pascoe along with his sister, Megan Pascoe, to keep the Weymouth flag flying.
  • David Hayes and Jonny Ratcliffe will be flying the Selden flag and expecting to be right in the action, despite a bit of time away from sailing due to injuries and a trip down the aisle.
  • Mike Simms, recently third at the Solo Nationals, and having bought Pottsy's previous CT Mark 5, will be making his first tilt at the title with Richard Brown.
  • Lark Champs, Steve Hall and Si Haighton, who have been getting quicker and quicker as they upgrade the kit on their 12 year old Winder.
  • Old legends, Jon Turner and Richard Parslow, will be looking to put together a consistent series to demonstrate the warp speed that they tell us is just waiting to be deployed.
  • David Hall, from Hyde Sails, is a regular at the front end of the Fireball fleet. He and his crew Mari Shepherd will definitely be ones to watch.
  • Rumours are that young Salcombe prodigy, Pete Ballantine, fresh from first junior and sixth place at the Solo Nationals is rumoured to be teaming up with top crew Ben Hollis in what could be a surprise package.

We look forward to the sun shining, the wind blowing and the south-westerly swell filling the bay. An action-packed, Cornish-themed, social calendar will test the mettle of the most hardened party-goer, pasty-eater and cider-swiller. A reminder to the competitors - don't forget to pack your fancy dress for the Pirates, Rum and Rio party!

Our thanks go to our title sponsors Selden, for their support in making this a cracking Championship. Thanks also to our sub sponsors:

  • Winder Boats – for supplying the Fizz for the annual Champagne Race. An extra-long marathon of a race where the first 21 boats across the line win a bottle of Fizz.
  • Rooster Sailing – for supplying the daily perseverance prizes.
  • HD Sails – for donating a Jib and encouraging competitors to enter early.

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