The 2005 Rutland Challenge for the John Merricks Tiger Trophy

With 250 entries the 2005 Rutland Challenge for the John Merricks Tiger Trophy firmly established itself as one of the biggest winter dinghy events of the year. Mild weather and the promise of great racing, a good social occasion and all in aid of a worthy cause attracted the record entry to this fantastic Midlands venue.

The first Tiger Trophy was won by the late John Merricks 12 years ago and for the last eight years the event has been dedicated to supporting the John Merricks Sailing Trust raising over £23,000 in the process. This year the event was sponsored by Purple Marine, Ovington Boats, Rule 26 and SportWorks from Herbalife.

John loved sailing and having a good time doing it, so the event’s format reflects this. Three average lap handicap races split into Slow and Fast fleets on the Saturday followed by the Tiger Dinner on the Saturday night and then a non-discardable pursuit race on the Sunday make it demanding both ashore and afloat – not least for the race officials who did a great job.

The £1,000 prize offered by Everards Brewery to any boat that can win all four races is yet to be won and the shifty, light southerly winds made that especially hard this year. Steve Irish and Martin Gotrel in an RS 800 in 2003 remain the closest anyone has come to winning this prize. As always there was an especially high turnout of youth classes which is a lovely feature of this event that normally favours the faster boats.

The first Fast handicap start had a general recall and Race Officer Dave Wilkins showed no hesitation in using the black flag for every subsequent start. At the second attempt the first race got underway for the Fast handicap whilst five minutes behind them the 420 dominated slow handicap kicked off with a minimum amount of fuss.

In order to race such a huge number of boats on one course, and to minimise any waiting around in the chilly conditions between racing, corrected times are worked out on an average lap times and in race one there was just enough breeze for the Fast handicap skiffs to post some impressive times. Results are combined from the outset and it was the Buzz of Justin Linnell and Charlotte Banks which claimed victory and pushed Athens Olympic bronze medallists Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks into second place. The first Slow handicap boat was in third place and took the form Richard Whitworth and Elena Bremner’s Merlin Rocket.

The first 420 in race one was down in the late teens and with the wind becoming lighter by the minute it was shaping up not to be a good year for trapeze boats. Race two got underway without delay for both fleets and on the same long course as for race one; much of the fleet could only complete two laps before things were shortened. For those who just missed the cut off it meant a painful extra lap, each boatlength painfully hurting their average lap times.

With daylight fading rapidly on the overcast Saturday afternoon and the very important Tiger dinner to get to, race three was sailed on a slightly shorter trapezoid course in the main body of Rutland water and the solid 10 knots of early breeze had been gradually replaced by a tricky, shifty, 4-6 knots. Once ashore the chaos of sorting out the average lap times and working out corrected results for 250 boats ensued and it wasn’t until well into the evening’s festivities that it became clear the traditional classes would be storming the 2005 Tiger Trophy. Overnight it was Whitworth and Bremner, with a perfect scoreline in races 2 and 3 who led from fellow Merlin Rocket, Matthew Winder and Chris Robinson. Draper and Hiscocks represented the first Fast handicap boat in third place with a second and a ninth, discarding a 17 in the final race of the day.

At the Everards Brewery sponsored Tiger Dinner on Saturday night, sailors and guests were reminded about the objectives of the John Merricks Sailing Trust and Chris Draper told of how John had personally assisted in his career. John’s father, Dennis Merricks, rounded off speeches thanking all the organisers, sponsors and competitors before a Team GBR poster, adorned with autographs of the whole team was auctioned off, raising £400 for the trust.

Rutland fog and no wind greeted some fairly foggy minds on Sunday morning before a light south easterly filled in and the Laser 4.7s kicked off the pursuit race in around 7 knots of shifty wind. By the time the GP 14 of Adam and Tim McGovern started some 12 minutes later in the two hour race the wind was up to about 9 knots, but not for long.

It became clear to the plethora of spectators lining the club balcony that the well sailed early starters would dominate this race, and as the minutes ticked down to the two o’clock finish, so did the breeze. Everybody drifted down the south arm of Rutland water at the same pace and it was a comical affair as almost 200 boats tried to round what turned out to be the final mark for most of the fleet, at the same time. With about an hour to go the GP 14 of Adam and Timothy McGovern took the lead which soon became unassailable. Behind them it was the familiar front runners of Whitworth and Bremner in their Merlin Rocket who finished second and took the Overall Tiger Trophy win.

Another Merlin Rocket sailed by Mathew Winder and Chris Robinson took 2nd overall with a super performance from Mary and Alice Rook in their Albacore giving them 3rd place and the Lady Tiger for the first all girl crew. The GP14 of Adam and Timothy McGovern rounded out a top four overall made up entirely of non trapeze boats with a very commendable 5th place being taken by Nic Asher and Elliot Willis in their 470 – always a special prize at this event. Keith Escritt in his Laser Vortex in 32nd overall took home the Shere Khan Trophy for the oldest competitor.

Dennis Merricks and Tony Everard presented individual race prizes donated by Purple Marine, Rule 26 and SportWorks from Herbalife, as well as the perpetual trophies for what has really become a memorable event. This year’s event raised over £5,000 for the John Merricks Sailing Trust to help support youth sailing. Make sure you don’t miss out on the Tiger Trophy in 2006.

For info on the John Merricks Sailing Trust please see