The Royal Harwich Yacht Club hosted the Ajax National Championships for 2024, with boats based at Shotley Marina for easy access to the race area in Dovercourt Bay. Originally produced in 1967 by Oliver Lee, the Ajax is a one design 23ft open keel boat sailed with a crew of 3. The majority of boats produced are sailed out of either the Royal Harwich Yacht Club in Suffolk or St Mawes Sailing Club in Cornwall and the National Championships alternate between the venues each year. There were no visitors from the St Mawes fleet this year, but this did not deter 11 boats in competing for the Gimpel Trophy. Notable additions to the Nationals this year were the return of Mars for the first time in 7 years, now with class stalwart Chris Brown in the middle and Mark Blackwell helming, as well as the immaculately turned out Indefatigable under the new ownership of Derek Mayhew with son Chris at the helm.


Day 1 saw a F3/4 Westerly, with 30 degree shifts either side of the mean to keep the fleet and Race Officer Tom Dixon on their toes all day. Race 1 was set as a 2 lap windward / leeward on a relatively short course to get a race in the bag. With a heavy pin bias on the start line, a short beat and a windward mark offset slightly to the north, Thunderer (John Williams) took the opportunity to cross the fleet on port to lead around the first lap, chased hard by Orwell VI (Richard Merriweather) and Indefatigable (Chris Mayhew). Orwell VI escaped the clutches of Indefatigable and tacked early out of the final leeward mark to split from Thunderer. 2 crossed tacks later, superior boat handling and an immaculate lay line call for the favoured end secured Orwell VI the first win by less than a boat length.


The course was extended for Race 2. A right hand shift in the last 30 seconds pushed the fleet up to the line early and a resulting General Recall. Tom wasted no time in bringing out the black flag for the restart. Dionysius (Phil Mayhew) tacked out early to pick up a right hand shift to lead the fleet at the first cross. Orwell VI held the left and tacked inside Dionysius at the first mark. A square run split the fleet, with little place changing at the front. Not for the last time in the event Orwell VI put the hammer down and sailed away to a comfortable win. Dionysius replicated Orwell's move from the first race to squeeze past Thunderer on the final cross to take second.


The forecasted drop in breeze never materialised for the final race and the fleet was sent out on another extended course, this time sailing sausage / triangle. Plenty of the fleet were pushed out beyond the port layline of the first beat, with some resulting polite discussion at the first windward mark. Goosander showed upwind pace that became a welcomed theme of the weekend to lead ahead of Indefatigable and Orwell VI. Confident gybes on the shifts heading down the run were enough to make a place or two, but as much as picking the right shifts on the next beat, something Storm Petrel (Jackie McKellar) made the most of on the left hand side up to the second windward mark. Those who hoisted early to carry spinnakers on the first reach gained on those who opted to sail high and hoist late with a right hand shift on the leg helping the lower tracks back up to the gybe mark. With a flooding tide the second reach was much deeper and compressed the fleet back up again. Orwell VI held their lead for a third consecutive win, ahead of Storm Petrel and Indefatigable.


Class captain Jackie McKellar hosted the fleet in the evening to a brilliant wine tasting (through the expertise of her crew Justin Waples) and summer meal.


Day 2 began with an 30 minute postponement to wait for the breeze to fill in. Fortunatley a sea breeze from the south arrived early in some glorious sunshine. To avoid the annual Pin Mill Barge Match course using a rounding mark in the bay, the first race was again a relatively short 2 lap windward / leeward course. A committee boat bias and the knowledge that a good start was key resulted in another general recall and the reintroduction of Tom's black flag for the second attempt. Storm Petrel found a gap at the boat end on the restart with pace to lead the fleet up the first beat while Orwell VI recovered from a slow start on the right hand side. Plenty of the fleet under-stood the windward mark layline, with a good number of tacks in relatively quick succession seen in the approach to the mark. Indefatigable led around the first lap, as ever being chased by Orwell VI. A windward/leeward incident down the run resulted in a trip to the protest room after racing for the leading 2 boats and the resulting race win going to Indefatigable, ahead of Telamon (Gordon Sutton) and Storm Petrel.


The leading boats started 1/3 down the line for Race 5, allowing Goosander and Storm Petrel space at the boat to lead the fleet away on a sausage / triangle course, but with the leeward end moved further in to the Harwich shore for a longer race. Storm Petrel held the lead until the very last, only to also feel the pain of being pipped at the post by a fast chasing Orwell VI.


The course was extended again for Race 6, with the black flag still in play. This time Thunderer won the biased boat end, hitting the line at speed to lead half of the fleet away to the left hand side. With a big split across the course a single shift could have opened up big gaps at the first mark. As it happened the shift never came and all converged together relatively closely, with Thunderer leading Dionysius with Orwell VI tacking inside Mars at the first mark and taking a spin for the infringement. Indefatigable made good gains on the left hand side of the second beat to follow Thunderer to second place at the finish.


The traditional class dinner was held in the clubhouse at the Royal Harwich that evening, with some exceptional food provided by the new club caterers.


The breeze for day 3 returned to the WNW, this time an overcast F3 with some punchy gusts. Generally the breeze would flick right in the puffs, but spotting the return to the mean in the lulls could gain places upwind. Orwell VI led the fleet from the leeward end of the line in R7 around a windward / leeward course, hitting the seemingly favoured top left corner of the beat. Those with a poor start were punished hard with the right hand side not returning any favours. The leeward mark was positioned close to the start / finish line, so place changing was frequent in the attempt to tack in to clear air for this short leg. Orwell VI stretched away to win comfortably and put one hand on the title, with Indefatigable all but confirming second place in the series.


The final race was a last sausage / triangle course on a similar axis and wind strength to race 7. Orwell VI once again led the leeward end of the line out to the left with Mars closely following. Indefatigable was squeezed out at the committee boat and forced right out to clear air. With an offset course an early gybe was required with windward drops on port to prepare for the triangle on the following lap. Orwell VI struggled to hold their deep cut spinnaker on the bottom reach out of the gybe mark, causing most others to drop and 2 sail reach. With hindsight this was a poor decision across the board, with Dionysius not dropping and gaining a comfortable gap in second ahead of Mars.


Orwell VI showed superior boat speed and handling almost all weekend and were able to lead from the front or recover from poor starts seemingly with ease to win the Gimpel Trophy. Congratulations to Richard Merriweather, Josh Richardson and Mark Ingram. Indefatigable was an extremely popular second place in the hands of Derek and Chris Mayhew, with Roland Smith at the bow, winning the Du Sautay Tray. Thunderer won the Mike Rowe Memorial Trophy in third ahead of the Victory Plate for Storm Petrel in fourth.


Huge thanks must go to Jackie McKellar for her organisation both on and off the water alongside Rear Commodore Sailing Steph Hensley. As ever, the fleet are extremely grateful to Race Officer Tom Dixon for putting together an extremely efficient series of 8 championship races and the use of his own boat as the committee vessel. Our thanks also to the mark layers and committee boat helpers across all three days. The National Championships return to St Mawes Sailing Club for the 2025 event.