by Louay Habib
North Sea Regatta 2011 is a 180 mile race from Harwich to the Smith's Knoll Buoy off the North Norfolk Coast then across the North Sea to Scheveningen. The race was hosted by the Royal Ocean Racing Club and held Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th June.
Last start - 2011 North Sea Regatta
The race had more wind than had been forecast and turned into a tough cold beat to Scheveningen. Race veteran Radboud Crul said 'I have done this race 24 times and I think this one was the hardest. It was a beat for most of the way and cold as well as wet with 25 - 30 knots of wind.'
The race committee had difficulty in anchoring the principal committee boat at the start which led to a ten minute postponement. RORC Racing Manager Ian Loffhagen explained: 'having dragged the anchor twice the skipper of the Haven Hornbill, the oil spill platform kindly loaned by Harwich Haven Authority, assured me that he could hold the vessel within 10m of the required position. We decided to avoid further delay and go with this, so the postponement was only ten minutes.'
First away were the ORC boats followed by IRC Two and Three boats and finally IRC Zero, One and Two. Two boats were OCS on the last start but both returned and started correctly. There was a solid north easterly breeze of about 18 knots and a short chop in the shallow waters off Harwich.
The big boats soon overtook the others and Pleomax, Oystercatcher and Tonnerre de Breskens opened up a large lead on the water. The tide favoured the fast boats which were able to sail in a fair tide virtually all the way up the cold wet beat to Smith's Knoll. This was followed by a fetch across the North Sea to the MSP buoy and finally a chance to hoist the kite on the 25 mile leg down to the finish off Scheveningen.
For the smaller boats it was a different story: they had to buck the tide up to Smith's Knoll and with the wind increasing to 30 knots it was a really tough beat. One or two yachts retired with gear failure and others through severe seasickness.
First to finish at 0538 was Richard Matthews' Humphreys 54, Oystercatcher XXVIII, which was fast enough to give him first place in IRC Zero ahead of the Volvo 60 Pleomax and second in IRC Overall. However it was not fast enough to beat Piet Vroon sailing his Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens 3 who won IRC One and IRC Overall. Adding another high points factor win to his total in the Season's Points Championship Tonnerre has now done five races and has 475.8 points; a lead of over 100 points at this stage in the season will make Piet hard to beat.
'A very nice birthday present for Piet!' Commented Frank Gerber, mainsheet trimmer on Tonnerre.'It was the owner's birthday when we got into Scheveningen and he was delighted with the result. But I have to admit, I was thinking about the smaller boats in the race who were still out there. Tonnerre has done a lot of upwind work this season but The North Sea Race was definitely the coldest and most gruelling race so far this year. The crew are used to these sorts of conditions and everybody was hiked out huddled together for the whole race, even at night. It was a cold north easterly wind and when the tide turned against us it was pretty rough and wet. Also we knew Oystercatcher were pretty close to us on handicap, so we were always pushing hard.'
Second in IRC One was Erik van Vuuren in the Salona 42 Pacha driven by E-Mission, the Dehler 41 Miles 4 Justice was third. In IRC Two Angus Bates' J/133 Assarian IV triumphed over Allard Natural Stone in second and Heartbeat IV in third.
In IRC 3 the J 109 Jeti, owned by Paul van der Pol beat sister ship Captain Jack in second and Inn Spirit in third. IRC 4 was won by another Dutch man Aste Biel in his S&S 41 Pinta-M. Blue June was second and Selene third.
There were only four boats sailing two handed but it is a credit to them that they all finished in the tough conditions. RORC Rear Commodore Nick Martin, who had brought the boat from the Solent to compete, was first in his J/109 Diablo-J, with Lady of Avalon second and Joost & Vrolijk third.
In the race under the ORC rating system Auke Van Der Zee sailing his Grand Soleil 45 Solid Sue was fast enough to win ORC One and ORC Overall. Second in ORC One was Ijsvogel and third was Visione.
In ORC Two Radbour Crul seized victory in his Dehler 36 Rosetta From the Rocks and was second in ORC Overall. Redan was second in class and third in ORC Overall. Quantum Racing was third in ORC Two.
The OOD 34 Nada owned by Nico Hoefnagel, which was well suited to the conditions, was first in ORC 3 with EscXcape in second and Broersbank in third. There was only one boat in ORC 4, Gouden Ruiter, the Pion OOD owned by Willem Kats and he ploughed a lonely course being the only boat to sail the short course before joining the rest of the fleet at Smith's Knoll.
All in all this was a really hard race and it was great to see so many boats finishing. For some of them this was a Rolex Fastnet Race qualifier and it was a proper test of both the yachts and their crews. The Royal Ocean Racing Club's Season's Points Championship consists of a testing series of races, which attracts an international and varied fleet. For the serious offshore sailor, trying to win the Season's Points Championship is a real challenge. The Season's Points Championship this year includes the tactically and physically challenging Rolex Fastnet Race, the oldest and most prestigious offshore yacht race in the world.