Stunning, is the best way to describe day one of the 2014 Half Ton Classics Cup in Saint-Quay-Portriuex on the north coast of Brittany. The weather offered something for everyone including plenty of sunshine and a range of wind conditions, the race management provided three great windward leeward races, and the Half Tonners and their crews excelled themselves by providing seat of the pants racing all day.
It is clear that the level of competition in the 22-strong fleet has taken a significant leap forward this year. After racing Richard Hollis of Crakajax, an X-95 production Half Tonner from Cowes, which has competed in many of the Half Ton Classics events, noted; 'It's much tougher this year. The racing is extremely close. Just one small mistake and you lose several places. The quality of the sailing in outstanding.' This was borne out by the results where the boats were frequently separated by mere seconds on corrected time and a different boat won each race. Race one went to Francis Marshall's 1989 Andrieu designed Concord, race two to Bernard Fournier Le Ray's Brittany Drizzel, a 1978 Berrett design, and race three to Peter Morton's beautifully refitted 1977 Farr designed Swuzzlebubble.
With three races completed fleet newcomer Peter Morton, better known as the man who revived the Quarter Tonners and who won his fourth revived Quarter Ton Cup just a fortnight ago, is leading the fleet.
Orihinally raced by top Kiwi offshore sailor, Ian Gibbs, Swuzzlebubble is something of a legend among Half Tonners and this is her first serious outing at a Half Ton Classics event. Despite being the new kids on the block Peter and his very experienced crew laid down a 2, 2, 1 score as they found their feet in the boat. Two points behind in second place overall is Bernard Fournier Le Ray's Brittany Drizzle, which has achieved great success in her home port of La Trinite. In third place overall on 20 points is the 1980 Joubert-Nivelt designed Sibelius, owned by Claude Charbonnier who is also based in La Trinite and is another regular on the Half Ton circuit. Philippe Pilate's General Tapioca (1978 Jean Berret) is in fourth place with 21 points and Toni Stoschek's Superhero (1988 Andrieu), Nigel Biggs' Checkmate XV (1985 Humphries) and David Evans' Hullaballoo XV are all tied for fifth on 23 points. Hullaballoo XV is a 1978 Stephen Jones designed Hustler 32 and as such she is also the leading boat in the Series Division for production Half Tonners.
The different race winners also represented very different approaches to Half Ton campaigning. Whilst all the boats in the fleet are immaculately maintained there are some who take a strictly traditional approach, retaining their runners and checkstays and keeping their deck layouts as original, while others choose to modernise the boats as much as is possible within the confines of the strict class rules.
Winner of race one Francis Marshall is definitely an owner who takes a classic approach in regard to Concord, his carbon composite and full titanium Half Tonner which he campaigns with a bunch of Enterprise dinghy sailing friends from Loo in Cornwall. When Francis purchased Concord in 2008 she had been fitted with a small swept back spreader rig and much of the original titanium had been removed. Francis painstakingly restored the entire boat including replacing all the titanium and she is now in perfect as original condition. Their win in today's first race was a nice book end moment for Francis and Concord as they also won the final race of the 2011 Half Ton Classics Cup in Cowes, which was her last serious racing outing. Francis explained; 'Concord has been in a lorry park so she hasn't been sailed since Cowes. We launched her in Plymouth about a month ago and sailed four Wednesday nights in training for this, although we didn't quite manage to get all the crew on the boat at the same time until we came here. So we were quite pleased with that first race and it all came together well!'
Swuzzlebubble represents the opposite end of the refit spectrum and has been extensively optimised for IRC with a swept back spreader rig and a fully modernised deck layout. Rob Lark, tactician aboard Swuzzlebubble, acknowledged that the boats with a more modern rig and deck layout do have some advantages, particularly in close tacking duels when the need for extra time to change runners can make all the difference to a boat, as Brittany Drizzle, who retains her runners and checks, found out when they engaged in a tacking duel with Swuzzlebubble on the second beat of race two.
This evening the crews enjoyed a rousing prize giving in the Half Ton Classics Cup Regatta Marquee, cheering loudly for each boat as their name and finish position in the racing was called out. The three race winners were called to the podium and presented with specially engraved Harken winch handles.
Tomorrow the boats will take part in a short offshore race starting at 10.00 that will take them around l'Ile de Brehat, a stunningly beautiful archipelago of pink granite islands that lie a mile off the Brittany coast and some 25 miles to the north west of Saint-Quay-Portrieux. The regatta continues until Friday.
For further information about the Half Ton Class please visit Half Ton Class Europe