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Tiger Trophy 2006

Tuesday, 11 April 2006
The Thirteenth Tiger Trophy

Paul Brotherton and Mari Shepherd, G&DSC, winners of the 2006 Tiger Trophy - photo courtesy of Dick Sanders
CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS - from Rutland Sailing Club
2006 Tiger Trophy photos can be seen HERE
Every now again a person comes into sailing who epitomises the spirit of the sport, and it was the memory of one of these people that brought over 200 boats and their various entourages to Rutland Water over a chilly weekend at the beginning of February. That person was John Merricks and the event was the annual Rutland Challenge for the Tiger Trophy.

Despite a weather forecast that read like a carbon copy of the Bloody Mary earlier this year, with freezing conditions and little to no wind, a veritable army appeared at Rutland on the Saturday morning ready to pay tribute to a great sailor and a great person, and to raise funds for the John Merricks Sailing Trust.

I had the enviable fortune of knowing John from a very early age at Rutland Sailing Club and his infectious personality and obvious love of the sport have been an inspiration to me, and many others over the years, not least the majority of the Great Britain Olympic medallists in 2004.

While we were waiting for the wind on Saturday morning, Dennis Merricks, John’s father summed up John’s attitude with a little story. While they were at the Olympic Classes Regatta in Miami as part of the warm up to the Atlanta Olympics where John would later win a silver medal in the 470 class, a young sailor popped up to Dennis and asked very sheepishly, “Do you think he’ll take me out for a sail?” John simply said, in the middle of a hugely important regatta. “Come on then, let’s go.”

A long morning was spent catching up with old friends, admiring our reflections in the millpond that was Rutland Water, and drinking copious amounts of tea but, at about two o’clock in the afternoon the gnats baked beans had clearly worked their way through and the faintest ripples could be seen out towards the north eastern corner of the reservoir.

Racing at the Tiger Trophy traditionally takes the format of three handicap races on the Saturday, followed by a non-discardable pursuit race on the Sunday. This was always going to be a tight schedule to stick to in under 5 knots of breeze but Race officer Dave Wilkins and his team weren’t going down without a fight, and after one general recall, the fast handicap fleet got away (almost) cleanly.

With over 200 boats spread across two starts, clean air was vital and in the pursuit of that one or two boats were perhaps a fraction over the line at the start and scored BFD. This included your distinguished author, who went from hero to zero after being told that he had not in fact won the race. That accolade went to the 49er of Toby Heppell and Richard Herbert, closely followed by Dave Hall and Gemma McIntyre and the 29er of Paul Brotherton and Mari Shepherd. Most of these leaders managed to avoid the voluminous roar that erupted around every mark of the course as the majority of the 200 boat fleet tried to go through the same patch of water, at the same time.

Results are worked out on average lap times across both the fast and slow handicap starts and scored as one fleet but whilst some of the faster boats managed to complete two laps in a rapidly dying breeze and fading light, could not. Consequently Race officer Dave Wilkins quite rightly decided to use times from the first lap only to ensure a fair result.

Being towed back to the club in the dark was a stark reality for many and preparation times for the now legendary Tiger Dinner that evening were seriously curtailed. In a moving speech from super coach and JMST trustee Jim Saltonstall, in which many of the UK’s up and coming youth sailors were reminded of Johns values of being fun, fair and fast. The live band then played well into the early hours, and with Tiger Bitter at £1 a pint all evening, there were undoubtedly some sore heads on Sunday morning. Such is the popularity of the Tiger Dinner that tickets for the dinner were sold out well in advance, and consequently organisers are already planning a bigger venue for this black tie event for 2007.

Faced with a similar wind proposition on Sunday, Dave Wilkins opted to continue the program and aim for two handicap races as it was unlikely that the pursuit race could be completed. Although the first race of the day started in a light, but stable breeze, this rapidly died off into a game of chance over the one lap course as the slow handicap fleet caught up and drifted past most of the faster boats. Despite this, the fleet did manage to finish and it was a clean sweep for the single handed classes as the Phantoms of Andrew Couch won on handicap with Clive Cokayne second and John Greenwood in his Finn third.

The breeze stabilised properly for the last race of the weekend and it was a suitable end to a tough weekends yachting. Paul Brotherton and Mari Shepherd scored their first win of the weekend, which coupled with their third in race one handed them the Tiger Trophy. This is Brotherton’s second Tiger Trophy win, this time sailing with 2002 29er European Champion Mari Shepherd and he paid tribute to her skill in getting him round the course in the frustrating conditions. Paul also summed up why so many people attend the Tiger Trophy, “I’ve only missed one or two tiger trophies since John’s untimely death because I think it’s a great way to pay tribute to a great guy. Most of the kids here this weekend would not have met John, but they can be reminded of his attitude towards the sport he loved and the people within it. It was always ‘have fun first and win races later.’ with John.” Of course, John managed both!.

This years sponsors of the event were Academia de Vela de Andalucia, Purple Marine, Rutland Sailing Club, Herbalife, and of course Everards Brewery. Over £4000 was raised for the John Merricks Sailing Trust in an event that has become one of the largest events in the winter calendar, and a fitting tribute to a great sailor.

Report by Dan Sanders

2006 Tiger Trophy photos can be seen HERE

To see the photos from previous years - use the links here:

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