by Louay Habib
2014 RORC IRC National Championship - For over a decade, the RORC IRC National Championship has produced arguably the most competitive IRC Championship in the world and the 13th edition of the annual event is set be an absolute cracker. The open event features yachts from six different countries, crewed by 400 sailors from all over the world. Bolstered by nine yachts competing for the 2014 Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, the international fleet, of nearly 50 yachts, is set for an intense three-day battle on tight Solent courses.
IRC National Championship fleet racing in 2013
Hair-raising action is very likely in IRC One with two GP42s spearheading the charge: Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe and Mark Lloyd's Problem Child. The all-carbon fliers are at the top of the rating band and will need to take line honours from an extraordinary chasing pack to be in with a chance to win on corrected time.
Marc Glimcher's American Ker 40, Catapult, with Olympic sailor Peter O'Leary calling tactics, makes its RORC debut and is the highest rated of three Ker 40s heading for the battle zone. Harmen J de Graaf's Dutch team will be on Baraka GP and Ed Broadway's British team on Hooligan VII.
Mixing it up will be two Hamble based Farr 45s: New Zealander Jeffrey Blue, racing Espresso Martini, and British skipper Stuart Whitehead, racing Rebel. James McGarry's Scottish team, including Kevin Sproul, will be racing Swan 45 Eala of Rhu, and will be looking to perform well, prior to representing Scotland in next month's Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup. Irishmen, Niall Dowling and Michael Boyd, will be racing the Mills 43, Chaos in lieu of their Commodores' Cup charter, Quokka 8.
The outstanding 12-boat class is completed by Willem Wester's Dutch Grand Soleil 43, Antilope - a proven winner, James Gair's British Mills 39, Zero II, which has won the event on two previous occasions, and Antix, Anthony O'Leary's Irish Ker 39 which was the winner of IRC One in this year's RORC Easter Challenge.
'I won't repeat what I said when I saw the entry list for our class,' admitted Anthony O'Leary. 'Our big event this season is the Commodores' Cup but we will have a real battle on our hands this weekend. For the IRC Nationals there is no restriction on professional sailors and I am sure plenty of the competition will be loading up for this one. Antix will be racing with our normal crew and the correct crew weight for the big event in July; we feel it is important to keep the boat that way. In this fleet, just seconds could separate all the boats in every race. If we get the right weather, it looks like we are going to have a phenomenal weekend.'
13 yachts are entered for IRC Two, including three Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup contestants: Kevin Miller's Scottish First 40, Zephyr, James Neville's British Corby 36, Ino and Richard Patrick's British First 40, Dusty P. RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine racing his British First 40, La Re?ponse, is relishing a return to inshore action against top class opposition, which will include the class winner for 2012, Jim Macgregor's Elan 410, Premier Flair. Adam Gosling's Corby 36, Yes!, and Paul McNamara and Tony Lowe's First 40.7, Incognito, will be tough to beat for both were in fine form last year, winning their respective classes at Cowes Week.
In IRC Three James Chalmers' J/35, Bengal Magic, is back to defend their class win. Last year, the team from Weymouth Sailing Club had a close battle with the overall winner in 2012, David Franks' JPK 10.10, Strait Dealer.
'It will be nice to line up against Strait Dealer again; they are always going to be strong in their home waters,' commented James Chalmers. 'We had to sail well last year but the light airs contributed to our victory so we will be praying for more of the same. There is a lot of talent right through our class - we will just have to see how we go.'
The largest and most diverse class racing at the RORC IRC National Championship is IRC Four. Giovanni Belgrano's 1939 Laurent Giles designed sloop, Whooper, will be the oldest yacht competing at the championship whilst Quarter and Half Tonners, immaculately restored for racing, will also be out in force. Meanwhile father and son team, Nick and Adam Munday, will be back to defend their title onboard their J/97, Indulgence.
'It is definitely a tough class this year and we will have our work cut out for us,' commented Adam Munday. 'This is one of the big regattas of the year and we have been training hard right through the winter. I share the driving with my dad throughout the season but dad will be driving all three days and we have a couple of new sails for the regatta, which we are really happy about. The conditions will play a big part in deciding the winner; the Quarter Tonners are hard to beat in the light and when the breeze gets up the heavier boats, like Winsome, have 'get up and go' - it's going to be a hell of a challenge.'
Prizes for the winners in each class are provided by Spinlock, the sponsors of the IRC rating rule in the UK and France. The overall champion and IRC class winners will be awarded trophies at the Cowes Yacht Haven Events Centre on Sunday 15th June. Racing starts on Friday 13th June with nine races scheduled.
For more information visit the Royal Ocean Racing Club website.