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Craftinsure 2023 LEADERBOARD

Salcombe Gin Merlin Rocket Week 2024 at Salcombe Yacht Club - Runners and Riders

by Fran Gifford 21 Jun 13:12 BST 30 June - 5 July 2024
Salcombe Gin Merlin Rocket Week Day 2 © Lucy Burn

With the sun finally shining, the water warming up and beaches looking enticing, its time to get excited about Merlin Rocket Week 2024. With 120 boats descending on the very beautiful Salcombe Harbour, there's guaranteed to be an element of chaos, a few black flags and one or two parking tickets to be washed down with reassuringly expensive ice cream from local cows.

For those who haven't followed the week in the past, it's a simple format:

  • the fleet is split into four flights (red, blue, green and black) - these don't change during the week.
  • Each flight races each other flight twice in the week, once in a morning and once in an afternoon. There are 60 boats per race. No-one races more than one race a day.
  • Everyone races three mornings and three afternoons.
  • If the full series is sailed there is one discard, no discards if any race is lost.
It's all to be embraced and with that in mind we turn to look at this year's runner's, riders, dark horses and longshots.

A quick look at the very beautiful Merlin Week board of winners steers us towards the winner of the last three Merlin Weeks - Tom Gillard. He's won with different crews and this year his crew is new again, in the shape of young Ollie Meadowcroft. Winning the recent Salcombe open meeting it was clear that Ollie's certainly not going to slow Tom down and brings with him a heap of local knowledge. Can Tom make it four in a row?

Joining Tom and Ollie in black flight are the last people to win prior to Tom's dominance, in the form of Richard Whitworth and Jemima Scroggie. Unseen recently on the circuit but sure to have been practising at Parkstone, Richard and Jemima can absolutely never be ruled out. They all race Mike and Jane Calvert every day and also Simon and Molly Blake, so there are plenty of previous winners of the week in black.

In fact, black flight helms have won the last five Salcombe Merlin Weeks. Black also hosts National Champions from other classes, with current lark national champion Ed Bradburn sailing with Bill Bradburn, and two further former lark National Champions who have already proven to be fast in merlins - James Goss and Chris White. And did anyone mention the 2022 winner of the Endeavour Trophy, Tom Morris, in black, with the familiar face of Chris Kilsby up front.

Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey go in blue. Having suffered at the hands of the black flag in recent years, they have won plenty of races at merlin weeks of recent years and as current National Champions they always have speed to burn. They'll have bimbled a little bit more excess speed into their boat by 30th June. Also in blue are the newly weds, Chris Gould and Caroline Croft, sailing with Sophie Mackley and Livvy Bell respectively.

On the podium last year Chris and Sophie could easily go two better and Caroline and Livvy come in as a form team with lots of strong showings on the 2024 circuit so far. Matt Biggs and Beka Jones are another team to have speed and form and cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

There are a lot of Warrens in blue flight, with Alan, William and Alex all helming and all impossible to beat on their days. Their crews, Will Carroll, Charlotte Fildes and Jonty Freeman, as well as hoping to win races will also be hoping to be first Warren. Every day.

Green flight has Alex Jackson and Pippa Kilsby in a new, as yet unseen battleship. Having both won multiple times as crew, could this be the year that Alex makes full use of Pippa's skills up front and wins the week holding the carbon stick? Racing Alex and Pippa everyday are current Silver Tiller holders Jon Gorringe and Matt Currell, always fast in most directions and Simon and Ally Potts, not always seen sailing together but always fast in any boat so presumably will have speed squared.

Tim Saxton and Holly McArthur race in green and neither have ever knowingly made a boat go slower so another team to watch. Likewise Chris Jennings and Pete Nicholson who sometimes definitely know their way round Salcombe, occasionally forget, but are always quick in the breeze.

Finally we have black flight which is full of local knowledge. Will Henderson is overflowing with the stuff. He often appears to have found the biggest hole only to pop out in a healthy lead. If anyone else tries to replicate said hole sitting, they get sucked in never to reappear. Sailing with son Arthur this year, they'll also have their match play hats on. With the local knowledge positively brimming out of black, Tim Fells and Fran Gifford have spent the spring club racing at Salcombe, albeit not in a merlin. Age is likely to get the better of all of these locals who will presumably start forgetting things.

Bringing youth to black flight are Mary Henderson and young Rory Gifford, Mary frequently finds herself at the front and Rory's a good egg. Having recently rejoined the fleet Tom Stewart, now sailing with class chairman Rob Allen will bring their very flat boat to Salcombe and sail flatter than a pancake to possibly improve on Tom's previous habit of coming second a lot.

But there are a lot of dark horses in this fleet. Tom Ballantine and Maddy Anderson will probably win a race, and surely its time for James Wells and Anna Aylward to pop in a few podiums. Matt and Hannah Greenfield were a fixture in the top five at the recent Salcombe open and David Hayes brings a cool head back to the fleet with crew, Grace Al Mukhtar. Antony and Jo Gifford are always hanging around the front in the famously quick Hot Totty, whilst John and Katy Meadowcroft often seem to round the first mark at the front and then prove a challenge to overtake.

Jen and Chris Dodds never seem to fall out of the top few, and we'd expect to see Steve Hall and Charlotte Stewart inconspicuously putting a super series together. James Goodfellow and Rebecca Videlo, Richard Adams and Jan Kimber and Rob Henderson and Alice Markham round off the dark horses, underestimate at your peril.

And never forget the longshots, too numerous to list - and that the race really isn't over until the fat lady sings. Nowhere truer than Salcombe in the summer.

No flight is easy, and you don't get many discards - one at best.

Enjoy the sailing, the beach, the ice-creams, the bar, the live music, your friends and family, don't stress about the logistics, stay cool and enjoy the week. Not long now.

Tune in at 1030 and 1430 from Sunday 30th June to Friday 5th July to see all the startline action on the Merlin Rocket Facebook Page.

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