241 boats registered online to enter the Rutland Challenge for the John Merricks Tiger Trophy, held last weekend at Rutland Sailing Club for the 15th time.
Rutland's own micro-climate made sure that by the time the first of 3 handicap races started at midday on Saturday, the forecast 12 knots had given way to a finger biting 20 knot buster.
This years Tiger represented the largest mix of classes ever seen and the usual contingent of 29ers and 420s was bolstered by an influx of B14s, Fireballs, Phantoms, Foiling Moths, Merlin Rockets and a plethora of other classes.
In race 1, Graham Vials put his memory of the Bloody Mary firmly behind him by lapping the majority of the fast handicap fleet in taking his first race win of the weekend in his Foiling Moth.
Interesting though behind him, it was another foiler, Sam Pascoe (Weir Wood) and an RS600 who was the only one close to him as a vast number of the fleet steadily succumbed to the 2 degree air temperature.
Unfortunately for Sam it was to be the only race he finished. After a collision while he was airborne, he didn't notice a severe wound in the bottom of the boat, until he landed that was, at which point the boat just kept going down, ending what could have been a solid challenge for the trophy.
Over the rest of the Saturday, the fleet depleted further and the rescue teams at Rutland had their hands full on occasions, peeling chilly sailors out of the water and battered boats off the dam at Rutland.
Tiger Trophy - Foil Moth - Martin Hollingshead
Many took advantage of the shorelines either side of the racecourse to beach their boats which, at one point left the edges of Rutland Water resembling a cross between a spectators grandstand and a boat jumble.
The fleet is split at the Tiger Trophy between fast and slow handicaps and average lap times are scored in order to give results as one fleet.
Not a perfect solution but one that keeps the majority of people happy, and always produces a winner. It is a sign of the development of the sport that the fireball is now considered to be in the slow handicap, and a look at the results shows a healthy mix of fast and slow boats at the top of the Fleet.
By the time the remaining 40 boats had completed the final race and headed in, it was Graham Newton and Tim Needham who had remained remarkably consistent with a third fourth and sixth place finish in the three races, leading the fleet. Musto Skiff legend Richard Stenhouse (RSC) also had a good day with a tenth, second and fourth, whilst Graham Vials dropped to 19th in the second race of the day, leaving him trailing the leaders . However, the one discard of the weekend established Vials as the overnight leader and hoping that the pursuit race the following day would prove sailable as it is traditionally non discard able.
For the first time and with the enthusiastic support of RSC Commodore, Nick Clarke, the traditional black tie extravaganza that is the Tiger dinner was held at the Sailing Club. A motivating speech from JMST trustee and Johns long time sailing partner Ian Walker kept the predominantly young audience riveted. Following his speech, the traditional band Brass Foundry played late into the night.
The forecast for Sunday was for snow, which didn't materialise. What did arrive was a blustery 20-25 knot Southerly breeze that made setting a course for the pursuit race challenging for the Race team.
The wind direction initially gave a perfect broad reach across the front of the club, and it looked like it was going to be an asymmetric day, but it was windy. Everyone knows that the weapon of choice in a windy pursuit race is a 420 and as the large fleet set off this became more and more obvious. By the time the fastest boats had started though, the breeze had clocked further to the south, making the once perfectly kite-able reach, tight, gusty, and tough.
Tiger Trophy - 29er - Martin Hollingshead
It was into this that Vials attacked the slower boats, and over the next hour and a half, despite more than a few landing mishaps in the larger gusts, he steadily picked off boat after boat. With about five minutes to go, Vials passed the B14 of Nick Craig and Toby Lewis (Frensham Pond), and the Fireball of Dave Wade and Ben Mcgrane (Northampton), leaving a mere four boats in front of him.
Unfortunately it was not to be and although he overtook one of the 29ers in front, Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign's (Stokes Bay) 29er, and the 420 of Ben and Tim Saxton (Grafham Water) had sailed a flawless race to stay ahead. An extra two or three minutes and the story might well have been different.
But in the end, the third place in the pursuit race was enough to see Graham win the Tiger Trophy for the second time. The first time he won it was 10 years ago, the first year that the event was held in memory of John Merricks.
Newton and Needham could only manage a seventh on the Sunday, This was still consistent enough to give them second overall. Richard Stenhouse, with a 12th in the pursuit race, finished third.
Interestingly, of the top ten there were no fewer than six classes represented, Nick Craig and Toby Lewis, relative newcomers into the class flying the B14 flag, and with David Winder and Pippa Taylor (Hollingworth Lake) the first Merlin Rocket in 11th place, the story is complete.
James Peters and Ed Fitzgerald (Hayling Island SC) took the Junior Tiger Trophy in fourth place overall, presented for the first time this year courtesy of RSC Manager Lynda Menzies, whilst the Handicap Trophy and first youths went to Ben and Tim Saxton.
First all girl team, winning the Lady Tiger Trophy were Frances Peters and Claire Lasko (Hayling Island SC) sailing a 29er into 19th place and first lady helm was Anna Burnett (Royal Northern & Clyde YC) in ninth overall. The Sher Khan trophy (combined crew age 75+) was won by Andy and Lesley Foskett (Staunton Harold) in a Fireball (22nd).
Full figures are not yet in but it looks like the event will have raised in excess of £6000 for the John Merricks Sailing Trust.
Full results are available on the event website www.tiger-trophy.com