Merlin Rocket team wins 50th Endeavour

»«Sunday 3rd October 2010

Twenty-four-year-old Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club member - Stuart Bithell - and his 21-year-old crew, Christian Birrel, representing the Merlin Rocket class, have won the 50th Endeavour Championships convincingly, with a race to spare.

The young Merlin sailors are also successful 470 sailors with Bithell now concentrating on campaigning for a place in the 2012 Olympic Games. Today, in winds that reached 28kts in the gusts, the pair showed that consistency pays by clocking up another fifth place to add to their impressive string of top six results from yesterday. In doing so they managed to knock Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne (National 12) off the overnight leading position.

As he stepped ashore this afternoon, Bithell commented on the weekend's racing. "We did all the hard work yesterday by sailing a consistent series which put us in a good position going into today's races. We were pleased that we were able to sail well in both the light and heavy winds. The National 12 team sailed very well and were extremely consistent in the light winds but luckily for us, they couldn't quite hold it together today."

Going into the last race of the series there was still a chance of Camm and Ballantyne beating the Merlin Rocket team overall if they finished in the top four. However, the big winds that prevailed throughout the day proved too strong for the super-lightweight 17.5 stone National 12 sailors, so they decided to take the conservative approach in order to secure a decent overall position. They put a reef in their mainsail, kept the kite in its chute and, in doing so, took a 23rd place to count, which still put them in a respectable fourth place overall.

Ballantyne talking about the last two races said: "It was basically too windy for us lightweights today so we reefed to de-power but were still really struggling upwind. Downwind, we took the tactical decision that we would probably be faster without the kite. Interestingly it wasn't that much slower because we were able to sail straight downwind, so it actually paid quite well, and we survived."

Four time Endeavour Champion Nick Craig, and crewman Toby Lewis representing the Enterprise class had a set of mixed results in yesterday's light winds but today the pair really showed their true colours by winning both races. In the first race of the day they were initially led round the course by Chips Howarth and Simon Potts (Fireball), and Bruce Keen and Penny Clark (Musto Skiff) but in the strong, full-on conditions, team Howarth/Potts capsized shortly after the bear away on the first run, leaving a battle royal to continue at the head of the fleet. By the second run, Craig/Lewis had gained the lead and managed to cross the finish line just ahead of Keen/Clark. Howarth/Potts made a speedy recovery to secure third place.

A similar scenario happened in the final race when Craig/Lewis managed to hold off Keen/Clark for their second win of the series. Craig commented: "The boats are quite tricky to sail in the light winds which is why the likes of the National 12, Lark and Merlin sailors did so well yesterday, but today was perfect for us. It's is a great class for the event because it's a good all-rounder and we have the full support of Topper if anything goes wrong."

50th Endeavour Masters

With the wind showing no sign of abating early this afternoon, the race committee decided to run the special 50th anniversary Masters Championship immediately after the final race of the Endeavour series. The 13-strong fleet made up of former Endeavour Champions from the last 50 years was, not surprisingly, extremely competitive particularly with the likes of Ian Southworth/David Hayes, Alan Gillard/Graham Machon, Bob Suggitt, Steve Tylecote, and Nick and Caroline Martin returning to Burnham specifically for this historic occasion.

Craig, like several other Masters in the fleet had been competing in this year's Endeavour Trophy, so was obviously race-tuned for this one-off, one-race event. It wasn't particularly surprising therefore to see the 'master of the breeze' take the initial lead from Tylecote/Toby Lewis, with Bithell/Birrel in third. Fireball world champion Chips Howarth and Simon Potts sailed a faultless downwind leg and once in the lead had control to the finish.

Howarth commenting on the Masters' event explained how important it was to be racing: "It was fantastic for me because from a young age when I was sailing my Cadet at Bolton Sailing Club, I idolised the likes of Southy [Ian Southworth] and Alan Gillard. I used to really look up to these guys, so to be racing against them 25 years later, is fantastic. What's also wonderful is there's guys from yesteryear like the great Mike McNamara, the medium age guys like Southy, and some of the great sailors of today like Nick Craig and the young Merlin sailors. It's a bit like racing with three generations, and it's even better to have beaten them all."


Over a hundred visitors turned out at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club this afternoon where Stuart Munro the Commodore was joined by Robin Judah - the man behind the creation of the Endeavour Trophy 50 years ago - to present the prizes. As well as winning the magnificent Solid Silver Endeavour Trophy, Bithell and Birrel - the overall winners - were awarded a £1,000 Musto voucher, and an invite for a chance to race at the Bitter End Pro Am Regatta in the British Virgin Islands.

At the prizegiving, special thanks were given to the event sponsors including Topper, Musto, Hyde Sails, English Braids, Selden, Noble Marine and Petticrows.