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Salcombe Gin Merlin Rocket Week 2019 - Preview

by Tim Fells 2 Jul 2019 10:48 BST 7-12 June 2019
A busy startline on day 4 at Sharps Doom Bar Salcombe Merlin Week © David Henshall

Sunday 7th July will see the start of the 62nd Salcombe Merlin Week, this year sponsored by Salcombe Gin, the award winning and rapidly growing local distillery. Many thanks to Salcombe Gin for their support which should make the daily Happy Hour a more competitive event. Also, a big thanks to the class clothing sponsor Magic Marine who will be handing out daily prizes. We are also extremely grateful to Spinlock for their very kind and excellent support.

Merlin Week is an iconic and unique event on the sailing calendar combining a stunningly beautiful location and holiday destination with a quixotic race track that never stops asking questions. No race is the same as the last and no race is ever over with oftentimes the final yards to the line mixing up the results. This presents compelling viewing for the other half of the fleet who are not in the race. Large crowds enjoy the stadium style viewing of the start/finish line and a flotilla of spectator boats accompanies the racing around the course. When it is all over, the beaches, estuary and town provide a playground with something for everyone.

The week has proven to be even more popular than ever. 180 hopeful teams entered back in July 2018 and have been whittled down to a lucky 120. The format remains unchanged with the 120 boats seeded into four flights racing either morning or afternoon each day with 60 boats on the start line in front of the club.

Looking forward to next week, the weather is looking pretty light for the first few days. However, Salcombe is notorious for having its own microclimate and breeze has a remarkable tendency to appear just in time for the morning start at 10.30. We can but hope!

Runners and Riders

Sitting down to write this piece for another year I get the feeling I am starting to get repetitive. Looking back over previous years, the same message keeps being the headline story; more talent joining the fleet, more potential front runners, more resetting of expectations. It is quite sobering to hear multiple champions wondering whether aiming for a top 20 finish is being rather overly ambitious!

As ever in this class, development is a never-ending process and for the 2019 season the search for marginal gains has seen a number of new pieces of equipment, rig set ups and 'nips and tucks' to the evergreen Canterbury Tales. On a more radical path, Salcombe should see the unveiling of the Jo Richards designed 'Rockatross'. Will this prove to be a game changer, disappearing up the first beat like a stabbed rat, creating immediate obsolescence to the vast majority of the fleet? We are sure there will be many eyes watching!

So, who is out to play this year and who is likely to be taking home the silverware? On the basis that, as we are led to believe 'practice makes perfect', there should only be one winner. Our current National Champions Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey seem to spend more time out practicing under the watchful eye of Merlin guru Jon Turner, than most of us get to spend racing. Their boat has more custom fittings than you would find on an F1 car and it is evident that they know exactly how to extract maximum performance in all conditions. Having got to grips with the intricacies of Salcombe with a win at the Silver Tiller meeting in April, they should be odds on favourites to take the title in 2019.

For this week, Christian and Sam have been paired up against defending champions Si Blake and Phil Dalby in Blue flight. This should be a battle royal as there is no sharper competitor around the estuary than three-time winner Si. Adding some extra competition to this tough flight are the very experienced and competitive Will Henderson, William Warren and (finally with an entry - hurrah!) Olly Turner. Blue Flight is also the home of the venerable Alan Warren, head of the Warren dynasty and still racing hard at the age of 83, giving many top teams a run for their money.

The other stand out performers on the circuit this year have been Taxi and Pippa Kilsby who started the season in unstoppable form, racking up 8 consecutive race wins at the start of the Silver Tiller series. Sailing the venerable 'Keyser Soze' now into her 13th season, they seem faster than ever and clearly have a beautifully set up boat. Beaten on count back at Salcombe Silver Tiller by Christian and Sam, we can expect these two to be battling it out to the last race.

Taxi and Pippa have some good competition in Red flight; Alex Jackson and Mary Henderson have been super-fast and have the potential to be real challengers; Tim Saxton, Dave Winder and Caroline Croft have all the skills to run at the front.

Over in Green flight, there are two sharp young teams who, having run the title close in previous years, have both invested in the latest Winder technology. The Chrises (Gould and Kilsby) and team Potts (Simon and Ally) look like they have their new kit all sorted and are starting to win events, and both have the pedigree to take the title. Frances and I will be giving our best to reprise our 2017 success and know we will need to be at the very top of our game to beat these hot young teams.

Finally, in Black flight, we have the perennially fast Mike and Jane Calvert. So close to victory in 2018 there is certainly some unfinished business to address. They should enjoy a really close battle with the ever-smiling Mat Biggs and Beka Jones who have also tooled up with the new plumper, straighter Winder CT6. Keeping these two form teams honest will be the multi-champion Roger Gilbert battling with the other ex-RS400 hot shots Jon Gorringe and Chris Jennings.

As we all know, Salcombe is almost impossible to predict. There is so much opportunity to snatch disaster from the jaws of victory, so many unpredictable factors, so much opportunity for social irresponsibility, that pretty much anything can happen. And to add to the fun and games, not only do we have Black Flag on all starts but we also have an ON THE WATER JURY!!

The program for the week is as follows and we will publish daily reports as quickly as we can.


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