The reigning World Champions, Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey, led the charge of the Fireballs at a superwindy John Merricks Tiger Trophy, the penultimate event in the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series
High winds at the John Merricks Tiger Trophy made for a challenging weekend at Rutland Water Sailing Club. The penultimate event of the GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series (also supported by Gul, Trident, Overboard and Lennon Sails) attracted 118 entries, but with a forecast of 20-30 knot cold north-westerlies, the weekend was always going to be a war of attrition.
When the going gets tough, few boats pick up their skirts quite like the Fireball, and the Tiger Trophy played out very nicely for a strong entry of Fireball crews. Reigning World Champions Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey won two of the three handicap races on Saturday, and took victory in Sunday’s pursuit race too.
The first race was sailed in 18-22 knots, with occasional gusts of 25. Birrell and Brearey revelled in the conditions, as did Rob Jones whose Blaze finished top of the Slow Handicap division. The breeze picked up even more for race 2, with just 44 finishers, and even Birrell and Brearey failing to get a score in this one. Instead it was another Fireball, Ian Dobson and Ben Ainsworth who took the win this time.
The war of attrition continued into race 3, with just 48 boats starting and only 38 hardy finishers. Birrell had retired in race 2 but was back for race 3 refreshed and ready to go. He won again after a tussle with the other Fireballs, and the 29er of Crispin Beaumont and Tom Darling, who was mixing it with the 505s and Fireballs all day.
Dick Sanders has been pivotal in the organisation of the Tiger Trophy over the past two decades, and at the briefing reminded competitors about the great work of the John Merricks Sailing Trust. “Half the money from entries goes to the Trust,” he said. “Some 28 John Merricks starter boats have so far been awarded to young sailors because of this support over the last 17 years that the Tiger has been sailed in John's memory.”
One of the first of those to receive an award was Nick Bubb, who went on to enjoy a successful career in offshore and round-the-world racing. Now a trustee of the JMST, Bubb was the guest speaker at the Bangers ’n Mash dinner on the Saturday night, where he further explained the difference that the JMST makes in getting young sailors on the water and competing.
A great example of this was Jack Berry, aged 12 from Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, as Sanders pointed out. “Jack was awarded a Topper from JMST in October and sailed in a very harsh Tiger over the weekend. He finished the first race in 61st place (when almost half the entrants retired in tough conditions), came in to repair in race 2 and missed the start of race 3 by 5 minutes. He still sailed the course and was last off the water. First on last off. On the Sunday, he did the whole pursuit race as well. We gave him a North Sails guide to tactics, in recognition of his perseverance, when less than half the fleet finished.”
On Sunday, Birrell and Brearey won the John Merricks Pursuit Trophy, and took the overall title of Tiger Trophy victors. Dobson and Ainsworth were 2nd overall, with Fireballs taking five of the top six places. Rob Jones sailed well to finish 5th in his Blaze. Katie Davies and Grace Summers won the women’s prize, finishing 11th in their 420. Ross Thompson and Ben Shorrock won the Junior Trophy, finishing 46th in their 420. Commodore Nick Clark presented the prizes along with John Merricks’ father, Dennis. In very trying and cold conditions, race officer Dave Wilkins and his team were applauded for putting on a great weekend’s racing.
Photo © Tim Olin