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Aspire Merlin Rocket National Championships at East Lothian - Runners and Riders

by MROA 12 Aug 03:42 PDT 14-19 August 2021
Aspire Merlin Rocket Nationals at Looe day 5 © Neil Richardson

East Lothian Yacht Club is set to host the Aspire Merlin Rocket National Championships from the 14th to 19th August 2021. This is the classes' 75th National Championships which has been made possible with thanks to our wonderful sponsors Aspire Financial Advisers, HD Sails, NB Distillery, SSE Renewables, Fernhurst Books and Triggernaut Sportsglasses. Here are the Runners and Riders for the event.

Stu Bithell and Tom Pygall are pairing up for the first time since 2017 where they delivered a comfortable victory. Fresh from his Olympic GOLD in the 49er class, Stu should be on cloud nine and looking forward to sailing with friends in a somewhat less stressful environment. Individually these sailors have all the skills and ability but a lack of time in the boat and practice may catch them by surprise (although Stu has probably got more time on the water this year than anyone!).

Ben Saxton and George Yeoman paired up for a guest appearance at Whitstable 2015 where they managed to pip Stu and Tom to take top prize, that said Stu had to miss a day due to other sailing commitments. They return sailing 3777 which George purchased shortly after Whitstable. Having successfully campaigned 3777 he and his wife Sophie have impressed with steady progress up the fleet. Spending time at the back of a Merlin really helps improve and round your crewing skills so we expect a lot from George.

Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey: Like Sunny and Cher or Victoria and David, this pair are celebrities known by first names alone, who is the wife and who is the husband is still up for debate. Boat speed and consistency are a key strength, but it is rumoured that they have had a significant lack of time in the boat since the last champs win in 2019. Having attended training led by Christian we all still have plenty to learn and we're lucky to have yet more topflight sailors raising the bar for the class.

These three teams are by far the bookies favourites for the Championships, but could there be an upset at the front? None of the teams are as race polished as they would like to be, having not sailed regularly together, if at all in some circumstances. I don't think this will be enough to unsettle them for the series, but it may be enough to allow a surprise race winner from outside of the group, and stranger things have happened!

Andy 'Taxi' Davis and Pippa Kilsby, now sailing Pip's boat (3735) and running a new Ceilidh mast; this pairing is in their third season of sailing together and are a formidable team. Their greatest strengths are boat speed across all ranges and relentless ability to claw back through the pack.

Tim Fells and Franny Gifford for the past few years have been the best of the rest, the rest being us mere mortals. Tim, now a full time retired Salcombe resident, will be sailing fit from competing in his Aero throughout the 2021 season. It is fair to say they're not top of the leaderboard for outright boat speed or fitness, that goes to our Olympic chums, but they don't have any weaknesses and are sure to put together a strong series.

Ian Dobson and Charlotte Fildes have been tuning their bespoke Rockatross design and are on a definite upward curve, winning recent Silver Tillers and gaining race wins at Salcombe. This pair are very capable, which combined with Ian's vast Championship experience will go towards putting together a consistent week.

Notable mentions

Tim Saxton and Mary Henderson sailing Bazinga, one of the best-looking ships in the fleet. Having been fortunate enough to sail with Mary I'm confident she will push Tim up the fleet.

David and Victoria Lenz purchased Chris Gould's old ship 3778 back in 2019. At the time one of the fastest boats in the fleet, Dave proceeded to change sails and all settings, usually a massive no no. However, the man knows a thing or two about rigs and has the boat singing. Although possibly not able to duke it out with our top three we expect to see a well-rounded performance.

Dave Wade and Ben Rayner make a welcome return. Dave and Ben initially stepped in to fill Tom Stewarts shoes as P&B rep but is now making the event a family affair, this year seeing Ben's son Oli sailing with class builder Dave Winder. Every so often when the stars align Dave finds the biggest go faster string in the fleet and has been seen disappearing off over the horizon.

Alex Jackson and Chris Kilsby are a new team for 2021 and have been putting in the hours with lots of practice at Shoreham. If they can get off the start line these two will have one boat firmly in their sights, a certain 3735 crewed by Chris' wife Pip. After overtaking more boats than they care to mention at Salcombe they hope the Champs will present fewer opportunities to make mistakes and work their way up the pecking order.

Sadly, due to the current climate there are a large number of competitors not attending; Nick Craig, Roger Gilbert, Mike Calvert, Jon Turner, Richard Whitworth and Ben McGrane have all proved their on the water prowess and it is sad that they and others are not able to attend.

Looking forward to 2022 the class is celebrating its 76th Championship, being hosted by Mounts Bay from 31st July to 5th August (save the date!). It is the ambition of the class to attract 100+ entrants including the very best from the UK. Imagine a Championships with all the above and more in attendance, suddenly making the top twenty would be something to be seriously proud of.

To find out more please visit www.merlinrocket.co.uk

During the event live tracking will be available at sailracer.org

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