Rolex Commodores’s Cup - GBR Red close on victory

QUOKKA 7, Team: GBR Red and ROARK, Team: Netherlands Red sailing towards Horse Sand Fort

The 2008 Rolex Commodores’s Cup concludes Sunday with a double points inshore race scheduled for 10.30am. Having led by ten points going into Saturday’s race, GBR Red delivered a near terminal blow over the other teams, and now hold a 32.5 point lead over defending champions France Blue going into the final race.

In the strong winds Saturday, which led to a change of course from the planned round the island race, to a 35 mile course down the Solent and around Hayling Bay, to keep the fleet out of the worst of the winds. GBR Red took the opportunity to post their most impressive performance of the Rolex Commodores’ Cup with all three of their boats winning their respective classes.

'Obviously we are all very very pleased. It’s been a lot of hard work,' commented Peter Rutter, skipper of GBR Red’s Class Three boat Quokka 7.

Today’s race was scheduled to be a clockwise lap of the Isle of Wight. However, with near gale force winds blowing on the south side of the island and the potential for severe wave conditions off the island’s southernmost tip, St Catherines Point, the Rolex Commodores’ Cup race committee chose to instead send the 45 boat fleet eastward down the Solent and in the lee of the island.

The boats again set sail from the start line of the Royal Yacht Squadron en masse. There was one general recall before the start was made cleanly, the boats reaching east at pace in the solid breeze and a sea that got increasingly lumpy as they ventured past the Forts off Portsmouth out into the open sea.

Boats experienced gusts of up to 30 knots sailing out of the Solent, but once out into Hayling Bay the wind was generally 18-20 knots. '20 knots, clear blue sky: champagne sailing,' recounted a windswept John Greenland, helmsman of Fair Do’s VII, the GBR Red big boat. 'You dream of being able to race down the Solent with the jib top blasting along at 12-13 knots. So it was ideal.'

For many crews the wind in Hayling Bay was less than some had feared. 'You got yourself prepared for the fact that it is blowing 30 knots so everyone is in that batten down the hatches zone,' commented Greenland. 'But for most of the race it was only 20 knots. But we didn’t have any crew handling issues.' Fair Do’s VII even hit 15 knots coming back up the Solent towards the finish.

Fair Do’s VII once again benefited from leading Class 1 around the race course. 'We made the biggest gain pulling out of the Solent,' recounted Greenland. 'Some people went higher, but we went lower to pass below some ships and as the breeze filled in a little bit and veered, we could come up with a bit more pace, whereas they were trying to sail a bit too low with their sail choice. We probably pulled out about one and a half minutes on them at that point and stayed about that distance ahead all the way around.'

But it was close. Anthony O’Leary’s Antix Eile, the big boat in Ireland White, with former Volvo Ocean Race winning crewman and 18ft skiff champion Rob Greenhalgh, calling tactics finished just 15 seconds astern of Fair Do’s VII on corrected time. 'It was lovely, very enjoyable,' commented O’Leary.

O’Leary admitted that helming during today’s mass start had been quite hair-raising, but in finishing second they had continued their consistent results. Antix Eile has the lowest points score of any boat in Class 1. 'Saying this is probably the kiss of death, but we haven’t had a result outside of the top three in the regatta, which is what we aimed for.'

In Class Two, the win for Jerry Otter’s Erivale III was almost as tight, just 39 seconds ahead of Conor Phelan’s Jump Juice in Ireland White. Tactician and sailmaker Jeremy Robinson attributed their success today to their reaching performance:

'We obviously had the reaching start and then we went around the second mark second in class. We were basically up with Blondie all the way around. She’s just a little bit better than us on the breeze. On the last reach to the Fort we caught her up but I didn’t want to get too tangled up, so we went to leeward of her. But then she broached out and that gave us our opportunity.'

Kees Kaan’s perennial winner in Netherlands Red, ROARK Claus en Kaan Architecten, finished an uncharacteristic sixth place but holds on to her position as the regatta’s lowest points scorer in all classes.

In Class 3 Peter Rutter’s Quokka 7 had an easier time of it, finishing almost 3.5 minutes ahead of yesterday’s winner, Marc Alperovitch’s Prime Time. 'It was all good enjoyable fun and long legs,' said Rutter. 'I think anyone would have enjoyed it today. We were quite excited because we ended up in the middle of the Class 2.'

With a substantial lead, winning the 2008 Rolex Commodores’ Cup is now within the grasp of GBR Red, but with tomorrow’s final race counting for double points, they cannot rest on their laurels.

'We all have to come fourth or better to guarantee it, but one boat disqualified would be 20 points – which is our lead,' said Rutter. 'So we have to keep our noses clean and sail very sensibly with tomorrow being a double points race.'

So were the race committee right not to send the boats around the island today? In the aftermath of a cracking day’s racing, the opinions of the crews confirmed the sense in the decision:

Jeremy Robinson: 'With the weather forecast, I think yes. When we got out there it didn’t look as bad as it said.'

Peter Rutter: 'They had 35 knots over at St Catherine’s Point and we were out there in 15-20 which was enough.'

Anthony O’Leary: 'I think it was a wise move not to send the boats around the island, because the end of it would have made it very difficult for the smaller guys in particular and probably everyone. But for us – a very exciting race.'

The Rolex Commodores’s Cup 2008 concludes tomorrow with a double points inshore race scheduled for 10.30AM. The final prize giving will be held at the Royal Yacht Squadron at 5.00PM.

Top Six Teams - Provisional Positions following the Offshore Race:

1 GBR Red / 92
2 France Blue / 124.5
3 Ireland Green / 129
4 Ireland White / 132
5 Hong Kong / 156.5
6 Netherlands Red/ 176