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Sharp's Doom Bar Salcombe Merlin Week - Preview

by Tim Fells 4 Jul 13:00 BST 8-13 July 2018
A busy startline on day 4 at Sharps Doom Bar Salcombe Merlin Week © David Henshall

The coming weekend will see 240 Merlin sailors plus family, friends and countless Merlin old boys and girls descend on Salcombe for the legendary Merlin Week. The event is once again generously sponsored by Sharp's Doom Bar, who will keep the sailors refreshed, together with new Merlin class sponsor Magic Marine who are providing prizes throughout the fleet.

As we look forward to the 61st running of this awesome event, many things remain the same. First and foremost, wherever one's aspirations are to finish in the results, the week brings together all the best things that dinghy sailing can offer; stimulating and challenging sailing in one of the most variable and beautiful sailing locations you will find, combined with a holiday venue that has something for everyone.

The forecast a few days out looks like high pressure will dominate for the majority of the week. Sunshine will be in abundance and winds will be in the Easterly quadrant and building over the first few days. So long as they remain in the E to ENE direction, this will give good breeze all the way down through the town, where spectators can expect lots of action, particularly as the wind builds. Hopefully the wind will not slip around to the dreaded SE where the race track can become a lottery.

Tides are dropping down to Neaps so will not be such a big factor at the start of the week but will be getting stronger as the week progresses. High Water time is not great, starting with 2pm on Sunday meaning that a lot of the racing will be restricted to the low water limits of the harbour. There are likely to be some low water starts with plenty of breeze and 60 Merlins in a very confined space giving a high black flag jeopardy and a bad time for insurers!

For those looking for a holiday, pack the sun-tan cream, bring plenty of beach toys and prepare for some epic viewing.

Out on the race track, the week will be as competitive as ever. With the amount of talent on show, there must be at least twenty teams with an eye on the title. As your correspondent well knows, if the stars align, it is possible to pull a surprise!

Our view is that the seedings have spread the talent evenly to create four well balanced flights. First up on Sunday morning with be Red v Green. Red flight looks very interesting. Pick of the bunch must be Mike and Jane Calvert who are Salcombe specialists. With two race wins in 2017, they have all the speed and skills to take the title for the first time since their debut win in 2000. Another previous winner, William Warren is back with a brand new boat and crew, Maddy Anderson, and will be super competitive. We also expect big things from Caroline Croft and Matt Lulham-Robinson who have been sailing beautifully on the circuit. We can add to these talents the expert skills of multi-champion Roger and Jane Gilbert and the Top Gun Olly Turner and super crew Holly Scott.

If this wasn't competitive enough there is also local young star Peter Ballantine sailing Speed Machine with Rob Allen. Last but not least we have the wild card surprise newcomer. Another multi-champion team, Mike Budd and long term crew Greabo, are throwing their hats in the ring for the first time with a new boat – should be interesting viewing!

What of defending champions Tim Fells and Fran Gifford in Green flight? Well, having broken our duck we know what it takes and feel we can give it another good shot. Our hands will be full though as we have been put together with Chris's Gould and Kilsby and Matt Biggs/Beka Jones, both teams at the top of their games out on the ST circuit and proven winners in Salcombe. We also have Chris Jennings with my old crew and legend Oli Wells to spice up the in-flight competition. A wild card coming from Green fleet will be the super talented Jason Andrews who has teamed up with I14 god Zeb Elliot in the hope of reprising their 2017 Lark Masters win in Salcombe.

Sunday afternoon will see the first outing of our favourites for the title, which we believe will again be Andy Davis and Alex Warren. Consistently at the very sharp end of both Salcombe Week, the Silver Tiller circuit and National Championships, they continue to be the form team with an armoury that shows no evident weaknesses. Taxi and Alex are in Blue Fleet and will be challenged hard by Christian Birrell who has been on fire around the ST circuit and now has enough Salcombe experience under his belt to understand the playbook.

Blue looks quite tasty as it also features four-time winner Dave Winder who together with son Oli look to be a real force, Tim Saxton and Jodie Green who won at Aldeburgh and the 'sister act' Jenny Dodds and Pippa Kilsby who have the speed and experience to challenge for honours.

Black fleet is going to be interesting with a battle royal likely between three top teams. Two times winner and perennial front runner Simon Blake, this year crewed by Phil Dalby, returns with the Superfast Jellyfish which has previously shown its best around the Salcombe track. Simon will need to be at his wily best to beat Salcombe maestro's Will and Mary Henderson who have been getting better and better since joining the fleet. We also expect Simon and Ali Potts to be right back in the action if they can manage their mobile nursing duties and for Alex Jackson and Mark Oakey to be fighting for race wins in their new ship.

So only a few days to go and the estuary will again be full of beautiful Merlins, the beaches will be full of 'beautiful' people, the sun will shine, the wind will blow, a plague of SUPs will descend on the water, Spud Rowsell together with a host of Merlin legends in the 'Royal Barge' will plough merrily along with little concern for the speed limit (or SUP pilots), consumption of chocolate will grow when it is realised that Salcombe Dairy's new Chocolatier counter is in fact a repurposed Mark 9b, Graham Cranford-Smith's hair will turn white with the stress of organizing the whole thing, everybody will at some point think it is a ridiculous place to sail and absolutely everyone will be desperate to get an entry for 2019. And sometime during the week, someone will have avoided all the many opportunities to get it wrong, will think "this is going rather well" and will go on to be crowned the 2018 champions.

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