by Ben Gladwell
P.W. Vroon helming Tonnerre De Breskens 3 during the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race.
Tonnere de Breskens owned and skippered by Piet Vroon (NED), is one of the top performers on the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Circuit.
Vroon (80) has been competing in RORC races for over 50 years and last year was award the prestigious club's 'Boat of the Year' Award. Tonnere de Breskens 3 won last years season's RORC points prize and is leading this season by a margin of 100pts.
A Ker46, Tonnere de Breskens was built in NZ by Salthouse Boatbuilders, and is sailed by an international crew.
Ben Gladwell (23)(NZL) was aboard for the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race and filed this report on one of the great adventures in English sailing:
Just over 1900 yachts lined up outside the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, Isle of Wight yesterday, Saturday the 25th of June for the annual JP Morgan Round the Island race. The boats paced backwards and forwards along the start line in the strong Southwesterly wind that funneled down the Solent as a light drizzle fell and they waited for the first start, class IRC 0, which was scheduled for 6:00am
Among the starters were TP52’s Team Origin and Weapon of Choice, IMOCA Open 60 Artemis, Farr 52 Bob, Kerr 46 Tonnerre de Breskens and the new Kerr 40 Keronimo, helmed by Olympian Ben Ainslie. Onboard Piet Vroons Kerr 46 Tonnerre de Breskens the excitement to get underway was palpable as the conditions suited us perfectly and we felt we were in with a chance to take victory.
We managed to get a good start and came off the line to windward of Keronimo and to leeward of Team Origin. The first sector of the course was a 13 mile beat upwind to the west from Cowes, up the island shoreline to The Needles in 22 to 27 knots of wind. As there was tide running against us, boats on port tack heading away from the shore would cross those boats on their way in from the deeper water, only to be crossed themselves by the same boats after being forced to tack again to make their way back inshore to get out of the faster moving tide. This made for very exciting, extremely tactical racing as it was imperative to choose the exact right moment to tack to avoid hitting the bottom or spending too much time in the strong tide without burning boat speed by tacking too often.
For the first hour or so were able to keep up with the bigger boats, trading blows and going cross-for-cross with Bob and trailing close behind Weapon of Choice. Although we lost touch with them both after being forced to duck behind Artemis who had appeared on starboard tack, seemingly from nowhere. As the fleet got closer to The Needles the seas chopped up more, allowing the bigger boats to make more gains. Team Origin was the first boat to round the inner distance marker set to prevent boats passing too close to a submerged ship-wreck located just off the headland.
From here the course was a 130 to 135° true wind direction genaker reach of 13 miles down the back of the island to St. Catherine’s Point. We rounded the mark, hoisted the A5 genaker and thundered off down the coast engulfed in a torrent of whitewater and spray at around 18 knots of boat speed, surfing into the low 20’s. We were making excellent time and gaining on Bob who was unable to match us for height and speed and was forced to head in towards Brightstone Bay before they peeled to a jib so they could climb back upwind to make it around St. Catherine’s Point. By this time we had nearly caught them and were only a few boat lengths behind. Because of our progress to date, we were fairly confident that we were, at that point, in the lead on corrected time.
After rounding St. Catherine’s, which was roughly the half way mark, the fleet bore away slightly to aim for Dunnose Point which was roughly five miles away. At this point the call came for us to change from the A5 reaching genaker to the slightly larger, A4 running genaker. The new kite went up ok, but complications arose whilst 'letterbox dropping' the old one.
The 'letterbox drop' involves running the lazy sheet over the top of the boom and using it as a drop-line, pulling the old kite between the boom and mainsail and down the main companionway. It is normally favored in situations when there is a lot of water coming over the bow because it means it is possible to avoid opening the forward hatch and potentially taking on large quantities of water.
Pulling the kite over the boom also ensures that it does not get snagged on any stanchions or go near blocks, possibly damaging it, and helps keep it clear of the water. Unfortunately, because the A5 is a Cuban Fibre sail, which is much stiffer than conventional spinnaker cloth, the letterbox drop was much more difficult than usual, requiring more sets of hands. This meant that we did not have sufficient weight on the rail when a gust came and we broached badly, causing the kite to flog violently, completely tearing the tack off.
While the crew wrestled with the remains of the violently flogging kite, the boat had rounded up and was pointing into the wind. And in the strong breeze which was still over 25 knots, we began sailing backwards at over 3.5 knots. Once we had the kite back onboard we were able to deploy the stay-sail, which balanced out the boat and the helmsman was able to regain steerage and get us back on course so we could launch the much smaller A6 genaker.
Although the process of getting the old sail down and a new one up took little more than 5 minutes, (by which time Bob was long gone) in the end it would cost us substantially more because with the smaller sail in the breeze which was now fading, we were rather underpowered. In spite of this, we continued on towards Dunnose Point at around 12 to 15 knots of boat speed. After reaching Dunnose Point, the fleet would bear away again to be running down-wind for 5 miles, aiming for Bembridge.
Here the wind would begin to drop to around 15 knots as the fleet made its way into the lee of the island. From here, boats would change sail configuration again, dropping spinakers and genakers in favour of jibs as they started on a 4 mile tight reach from Bembridge, towards The Forts. As boats approached The Forts they would sail back into stronger breeze that was once again funneling down The Solent. Now the fleet had to embark on a short upwind leg from The Forts, heading westwards back towards Cowes, where the finish line was just under eight miles away, lying near the mouth of the Medina River. We were able to get trough this final part of the course with only two very short tacks, right by the line, although many boats tacked a number of times.
Team Origin would go on to take Line Honors for the monohull class with an elapsed time of 04:43:01 (although she would lie in third on corrected time). For most of the day it looked as though Bob would win overall on corrected time, with a time of 06:29:03, although at the end of the day she was beaten by a Contessa 26, Sundowner, who crossed the finish line 3 hours 24 minutes and 19 seconds later. Sundowner’s handicap corrected time turned out to be 06:23:46, beating Bob by 5 mins and 19 seconds. In the multihulls, Handicap and Line Honors was taken out by Prince de Bretagne with an elapsed time of 03:49:58 and a corrected time of 06:18:59.
All the crews were tested by the conditions and there were number of thrills and spills onboard all the boats, although some experienced a few more than others, Ben Ainslie and his crew aboard Keronimo managed to blow up three genakers, run aground, and have one of their number fall violently ill with sea sickness.
All in all it was a fantastic event and the organizers should be congratulated.