With no racing at FFSC at the weekends, the conversation over thursday afternoon coffee break saw the Suffolk Sails race team decide to see if they could get the band back together and get clearance for entering the Smugglers Trophy at Royal Harwich Yacht Club. With short notice like that, you never know if the chief in charge will grant permission, clearance granted and passports packed the team hitched up and headed over the bridge to the badlands of Essex…Essex…Ford cortina country, ‘allo john gotta new mota? (Ed’s note: stop wandering off into Alexi Sayle impersonations, you went to Royal Harwich, get a grip! It’s still in Suffolk, you plum).

On arrival a friendly welcome saw the competitors welcomed by the commodore and his (very) happy team of helpers, as the only merlin taking part we were in the handicap fleet, not the biggest fleet of the weekend, but a couple of visitors and a few locals.

With the fleets split into 5 fleets we were racing on the same track as the lasers and fireflies, the Nationla 12’s and phantoms on the other course.

Saturday…Race 1

Not having sailed together for over a year the team launched early to have a good practise and to make sure the systems worked (of which the Merlin Rocket has many) .

On the ‘practise’ beat the boys realised they might struggle as they ground the board  on the putty, a mild concern! Luckily the first start was closer to high water so as the sequence started it was back to which side would pay, erring on the safe side the team hit the channel side but got dragged into the fleet, with a big long blade it soon became clear that the weed and jellyfish would not be helpful on that side of the course. Struggling to get the boat going and a very poor tack saw the river Orwell in the boat and not on the outside. This let the RS200 and laser through, now we all now that when the wind is light to medium weight is key, what is the density of water? let me tell you its 1000 kg/m3, what does that mean? It’s better out the boat! Eventually we caught the laser on the 2nd lap (Eds note: it took you 2 laps to overtake a laser?) but couldn’t overhaul the RS before the shortened course flag was raised. One down 4 to go.

Race 2.

Boat empty, pep talk done, worlds worst choice of post race biscuit (may as well as tried the jacob’s cracker challenge) the Team noticed a bit of port bias, lining it up for a port tack flier, they squeezed a gap and went, this  saw them head the fleet round however the RS200 was having a stormer and threw out the line and stuck to our transom. pulling away upwind and being hauled back downwind. The streaker in 3rd left racing behind but in true ‘ghost’ mode was just hanging on to 2nd!

With the sea breeze being as consistent as the ‘Ora’  it was team work that was making the difference the years separation and on a different boat was showing in the tacking and gybing. Taking the gun we took line honours but the RS was looking a little to close for the handicap win.

Race 3.

BOOM! boom? boom, ok maybe not BOOM! but the team was beginning to remember how to roll tack, ping the laylines, just not every time, another port tack flier saw the team head up the beat like a knife, taking the channel side. The issue with this side of the course soon became apparent as the jelly fish decided they would really like to play with expensive carbon blades. Nothing, nothing slows a boat like a jellyfish on your daggerboard, yes i know i said filling the boat with water is slow but that is user error. With a bunch of jellyfish on the blade the RS managed to keep in touch at the windward mark, but with better handling and team work we rolled the merlin downwind extending slightly. Gaining again on the upwind leg but still choosing to take the weedy and jellyfish side of the leg was proving to be slow, never really shaking the RS of our tails line honours again but a bit more distance before the RS, was it enough for taking a handicap win too?

The end of day results saw the RS200 visiting from Waldringfield take 3 bullets. hmmm they were sailing well and were proving hard to get in front on handicap, the streaker take a brace of 2nds and a 3rd and last podium place overnight fell to Suffolk Sails in the Merlin Rocket with a brace of 3rd’ and a 2nd…”good game, good game” as Brucey would say, “everything to play for” as Jim would say.

Sunday and now for something completely different…….A Pursuit Race

Sailors, they can be a superstitious bunch. In the loft we are wary of the colour green on boats (google it), and a few other things, lucky kit, dressing the same way, rigging the boat the same way, everything repeated. So when your crew forgets their boots; you start to think that maybe it’s not your day…

It has been too long since i have done a pursuit race, and being one of the fastest in the fleet is a reminder as to how hard it can be to extricate yourselves form a gaggle of slower boats.

Starting with the phantoms, it soon became clear that short tacking a Merlin in a murmuration (??) of phantoms was not going to be easy, there is a fair bit on tacking a semi modern merlin, by the time we got the hang of the mud (yes it was low water ish) we had overhauled all bar one phantom (Ed: but you started with them? surely you should have done that on the line) we set our sights on the tail end of the national 12 fleet, by the end of the first lap we had overhauled half the 12’s and the RS200, the feeling soon became clear that we could pursue the leading 12’s all day and still not catch them! luckily the hours pursuit was up. now for those that do pursuit races, you will be aware that on the hour the gun goes and everyone stops racing…which can be disconcerting for anyone not aware of how they finish as every boat no matter where just stops and heads for home!

Back to business Smugglers Series Race 4 & 5

After a short pause the fleet gathered again for the last two races of the weekend.

Race 5.

Another marginal port bias but with the left hand side looking more promising (and with less of the jellyfish)  it was going to be tight at the pin end, timing the run to perfection saw tema Suffolk Sails cross the fleet and tack back on the first header take a nice lead, rounding the mark and hoisting an early gybe to take advantage of the flood tide, with the boat handling now fully ‘aston martin’ the team rolled the boat down on gybe dropped and cut back upwind like the proverbial knife through butter and with this heat the butter was soft. the RS200 was struggling to keep a leash on us now as we got the boat dialled in and the shifts working for us. One of the glorious days sailing when everything just clicks. Line honours again and a feeling that that should be  close enough for a win…

Race 6.

My sort of race officer!

no messing, flags up and race 6. Same again, port tack bias, but the fleet were getting wise (ed: really 4 port tack starts and you think they wouldn’t notice?) the RS200 closed out the pin and the team had to thread the fleet. With the boat and and team now firing on all cylinders, they soon pulled out a lead which grew on every lap, slick spinnaker handling and tidy laylines, saw a good line honours and a fairly confident estimate at handicap win, but would it be enough for overalls, the sluggish start on Saturday might be the difference.


in the pursuit race we ended up 12th, which we were pretty happy with. The top Nat 12′ are damn quick little boats upwind and with some top helms (and it was local water for a few of them) so no complaints there. (Ed: excuses excuses).

Smugglers Trophy:

After all the counting  it was going to be the other boats that decided 1st and 2nd, if one of the other boats could squeeze the RS200 out then we had a chance on count back…it wasn’t to be, first loser by one point .

well done to Geoff and Nicole Mayhew, RS200, worthy winners (and a good show for Waldringfield SC).

2nd Simon and Matt (Suffolk Sails) Merlin 3543 (FFSC)

3rd Streaker Ian Mansfield (Alton water)

A huge thanks to Royal Harwich, super friendly club, great organisation, stunning venue, highly recommended! We’ll be back (and we’ll bring the kite back too). We can’t recommend this friendly event or club enough!