Nick Craig wins Merlin Rocket Nationals


Team Harken's Nick Craig, together with his crew Alan Roberts put in a masterful performance to win the Aspire Merlin Rocket Nationals in Pwllheli, Wales.

Nick and Alan expertly sailed their new boat 'Messy Monty', a fully Harken fitted Jon Turner built Genii design, to a score-line which included four bullets and two seconds at the notoriously competitive championship. 

2017 is the second Merlin Rocket national title claimed by Nick and Alan, the pair having previously won in Tenby in 2014. It is also the fourth major title this year for Nick whose 2017 has seen him crowned B14 National Champion as well as World Champion, UK Winters Champion and UK End of Seasons champion in the International OK

Here's how it all played out, courtesy of Chris Martin from the Merlin Rocket Owners Association:

Day 1
Day one of the Aspire Merlin Rocket national championship got off to a quiet start in a breeze that barely exceeded 5 knots. 
Despite the efforts of the pin boat team, the pin end was certainly favoured and most of the boats in the pound seats at the windward mark came from around that area as Nick Craig and Alan Roberts rounded first of a gaggle of "seeds" and one or two Silver fleet wild cards! 
Nick and Alan may have led for the entire race, but the sausage-triangle course certainly kept the fleet together and no position could be taken for granted on this day of snakes and ladders. 
So the results of Selden Sunday put Nick and Alan at the top of the leader board with Sam and Megan Pascoe in second and Caroline Coft and Matt Lulham-Robinson in third. 
The Silver fleet was hotly contested with Chris Martin and Oliver Maclean winning the group posting a nosebleed inspiring 11th place. 
Bronze fleet winners were Steve Harling and Eleanor Thomas in 24th place overall. 
Looking to the future of the sport the first of the sponsored NSSA entries were April Whitley and Hazel Newport posting a 31st is this highly competitive fleet. 
The Rooster Endeavour award was won by Karen Hiles and John Hodge. 
The sun shone on us today, hopefully the wind will come to join us tomorrow. 

Day 2 - No racing due to adverse conditions

Day 3 
Rooster kit Tuesday of the Aspire Merlin Rocket championships was run in champagne, if slightly tricky, conditions. Three races were scheduled to get us back on timetable ahead of what look to be marginal conditions on Wednesday. 
The three races took place in a force three/four and enough swell to make gains if used correctly. It was a bit snakes and ladders in all races with tidal issues also influencing which way to go as the ebb got stronger and then faded away towards low water. 
"Outsiders" Nick Craig and Alan Roberts have clearly been riled by my assessment of their chances in the event preview and have recorded a further two wins to plant themselves firmly at the top of leader board at this pre-discard stage. Andy Davies and Alex Warren are a firm second with a pretty consistent scoreline and recording a win in race two today. Lying third are another wild card pairing, Tom Gillard and Tom Lonsdale who are also putting together a decent scorecard though the two leaders have a good cushion before discards.
Further down in the Silver fleet Mark Barwell and Lou Johnson have put in three impressive performances to take the jerseys into tomorrow. Ben Eaves and Sean Anderson have powered the well seasoned Back to the Future to the head of the Bronze fleet in their first championships.
Of the three NSSA entries the lady team of April Whitely and Hazel Newport are still ahead of their rivals, and one or two far more experienced teams. 
With the weather tomorrow looking marginal at best. the start has been brought forward two hours to give us the best possible chance of getting a race in. 
All to play for throughout the fleet at the halfway stage!

Day 4 
HD Wednesday of the Aspire Merlin Rocket Nationals saw two races scheduled. Most in the dinghy park considered even one race to be optimistic given the forecast, the race team brought the start time forward by two hours in an attempt to give us a chance of getting a race in before the predicted Armageddon in the afternoon. 
In much the same way as Monday the sea state was our enemy rather than the breeze. The committee boat radioed back that we had 20-22 knots from 170 degrees, which is well within our guidelines. Flag delta was hoisted and off we went! Launching proved something of challenge in the low tide with a reasonably long wade before pushing off. 
Once out there it was clearly going to be hard work. Several boats capsized before warning signal and several of those headed back ashore. The race team started the sequence on time and the race got away again at the first attempt. 
William Warren and Mark Oakey rounded first and took to the water shortly afterwards. Andy Davies and Alex Warren took up the mantle before taking to the water after falling off a wave - not an uncommon issue today! Nick Craig and Alan Roberts came through to take the lead after re-rigging their spinnaker on the first run. They held their lead though until the end and took yet another win. Dave Hayes and Jonny Ratcliffe had an excellent race to come in second with Sam and Megan Pascoe taking third. 
It had been pretty clear from the second lap that a second race was highly unlikely and most competitors were relieved to see AP over H on the committee boat at the finish line. The conditions had reached 24 knots and the sea state was getting more and more messy as time went on. 
Dave Lee and Juliet Pealing took the Silver fleet with a 14th and Guy Browne and Andy Hunter won the Bronze fleet race. 
Special mention to Sam Thompson and Keri Harris who managed to sail ashore from just after the windward mark with the rudder and half the transom in the boat after hitting a jellyfish. 
Three races are now scheduled for Thursday with another rather iffy forecast for Friday. 

Day 5
Winder Thursday a.k.a. Ranelagh Thursday a.k.a Champagne Day of the Aspire Merlin Rocket Nationals saw something of a revolution in race format with three races scheduled in an attempt to get the full nine races in for the series. 
The Champagne day moniker was particularly appropriate given the splendid force 3-4 from the southwest and pleasantly rolling waves. Both of these were predicted to increase as the day progressed, a prediction that was accurate! 
Though Nick Craig and Alan Roberts have dominated so far Andy Davis and Alex Warren have been loitering with intent. This intent came to fruition in races six and seven (1 and 2) as they took both bullets for the Top Hat Trophy and the Ranelagh Trophy. A master class in tactical sailing took place in race 8 as Nick and Alan were hell-bent on preventing a further win for Taxi and Alex which would put their position under threat should a race be sailed tomorrow and the second discard come into play. Taxi and Alex were losing this battle and after taking to the water and retiring look to have lost the war pending the result of a protest against Nick and Alan in race one which could have significant influence on the overall result.
Looking further back Mark Barwell and Lou Johnson have one hand on the Silver fleet trophy and the evergreen Back to the Future piloted by Ben Eaves and Sean Anderson have got their mitts on the Bronze fleet shirts heading into tomorrow. 
The forecast for Friday is currently marginal and some of the fleet rather tired, though the feedback is that the new race format put into place by an accomplished race team is a breath of fresh air. Whether we sail tomorrow or not we have plenty to chew on looking towards next years championships at Lyme Regis. 

Day 6
Dinghytec Friday or the Aspire Merlin Rocket national championships had been the subject of much debate for a number of days. The forecast had been moderating more and more and what looked like a short weather window to get a race in turned out to be eminently sailable though we were all glad to be a race up on schedule. Being a one race day we could have a longer race which many in the class still enjoy and provides variety. 
A general recall after a large wind-shift and a pushier than they ha ve been fleet led to a general recall and restart under black flag. Port was absolutely the place to be as the breeze swung left shortly after the start. Tim Saxton and Jodie Green rounded first with Andy Davis and Alex Warren in hot pursuit. 
The overall prize may have been decided but the Silver and Bronze fleet trophies were still vulnerable. Chris Martin and Oliver Maclean needed to do something special to wrest the prize from Mark Barwell and Louise Johnson. A 4th round the windward mark put them in a position to do just that with only the small matter of holding off an assortment of world, national and former Endeavour Champions! A swim at the last leeward put the final nail in their claim for the Silver title, but Chris and Oliver took the Silver prize for the day. 
Bronze fleet was also up for grabs with a gear failure putting Back to the Future out of the race as of last night. Phil and Ali Ashworth were the closest challengers, but they to had a mountain to climb to take t he title from Ben Eaves and Sean Anderson - they didn't do enough and had to settle for 2nd. 
Nick Craig and Alan Roberts won their protest last night to cement the overall win. Andy Davis and Alex Warren took the bullet in today's race to take second ahead of Chris Gould and Chris Kilsby who were in second overnight. 
So, we have had a fantastic week at a fantastic facility put together and run by very professional people from the club, MROA and race management side. 
A huge thank you to Ia n and Angela Mackenzie who did the vast majority of the groundwork to run this week. Also a massive thank you to Peter Saxton and his team who have raised the bar considerably in terms of our race management expectations. Another big thank you to Neil Williams and his team at Plas Heli who truly could not have done more for us. 

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