The Solent served up some challenging conditions for the competitors in the IRC National Championship organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club. The gradient wind oscillated with the sea breeze and complex tidal rivers added to the conundrum for the tacticians. Or as Sir Robin Knox Johnston recently put it; 'It’s like three dimensional chess with press ups.'
It was a day for heads out of the boat looking for the best breeze and more importantly, avoiding the holes in the wind. Starts are always important but with so many yachts nailing the line, there were always going to be some hair raising incidents. Spring tides and shifty wind conditions added to the close competition. Day Two of the RORC IRC Nationals was not for the faint hearted.
t was a day of highs and lows for Stuart Robinson and his all star crew on TP52, Stay Calm. They seemed out of contention half way through Race 4 after Niklas Zennstrom’s TP52, RAN got a good start. Ben Ainslie helming Charles Dunstone’s TP52 Rio
also had a good start nailing the pin end and extended their lead on handicap all the way round the course. Ran and Rio chose to go to the Island shore for the second beat and lost the breeze as Stuart Robinson explains; 'We saw them go in there and just hit an almighty hole. We stayed out of there and in the breeze and made a huge gain. It could have happened to any of us and when you are in that situation there is little you can do.'
Stay Calm went on to win the race by just 22 seconds from Andres Soriano’s Mills 68, Alegre. 'The Solent is a bit like sailing back at home in the Harauki Gulf. It’s tricky, shifty and a great challenge but you are always in with a chance.' Commented Team New Zealand afterguard, Ray Davies who is calling tactics for Stay Calm.
Rio nailed the start of Race 5, whilst Ran got caught in the bad air of Alegre and had to take a couple of sterns before tacking back, finding themselves on the right hand side of the course and out of synchronisation with the shifts. The Ran crew fought back, and despite Rio taking the win, Ran pulled back to second place.
Race 6 was full of incident and whilst going to press, there are several outstanding protests which may effect the standings. There was a titanic gybing duel between Rio and Ran during the race, but Colm Barrington’s TP52, Flash Glove, came out on top and Rob Lutener & Martin Elwood’s TP52, Henri Lloyd Cutting Edge had a cracking race to come second. Rio had a problem with their backstay, decimating their upwind speed.
Going into the last day of the Championship, Ran are leading the class with Flash Glove second and Stay Calm third, but this class looks like going to the wire with any of the top five boats still very much in the hunt.
Class Zero is packed with Rolex Commodores’ Cup contestants and it showed. The starts today were so hotly contested that there were boats being spat out at the pin end or pushed over the start ad infinitum. John Shepherd’s Ker 46, Fair Do’s had an excellent day with two firsts, but were forced out by a bundle of boats at the ODM at the start of Race 6.
'I suppose we were a bit too bold really, coming in at pace from a few yards back with this field and it didn’t quite come off.' Commented Fair Do’s VII helm, Johnny Greenland. 'It looked like we had a big enough gap to squeeze in but it was not enough, we gybed out and tacked taking a couple of transoms. It was a pretty tense affair but we came out of it alright and clawed our way back into a pretty good position, considering the start.'
Anthony O’Leary’s, Ker 39, Antix Eile continued her impressive form after a shocker in Race 4 were she came a lowly 11th, but recovered to post two second places. The Irishman had a different son each day calling tactics. One can imagine that competition in the O’Leary household is a family trait!
Antix Eile leads the class going into the last day with Fair Do’s in hot pursuit. Tony Buckingham’s IRC 40 is having a good championship and is still in with a chance of improving on third.
Aemon Rohan’s Mills 40, Blondie IV continues to lead Class One showing exceptional pace, especially upwind, but the Cork based crew are not having things all their own way, as crewman Ian Travers explains;
'We always like to sail with a smile on the face and we had a cracking start to Race 4 before the wind turned against us and we went from hero to zero. We managed to scrape back to get a second which we were delighted with. In the last race of the day the start was a bit of a problem. We found ourselves with no room to cross a busy pin end and had to bear away and take a few transoms, miraculously we didn’t come out of the situation too badly.'
Blondie IV lead the class and their nearest but dearest rivals, Conor and Denise Phelan’s Ker 37, Jump Juice are still in the hunt, but it looks like the rest of the class will be fighting for third place tomorrow, barring an extra-ordinary sequence of events!
In Class two, Andrew Allen’s Mills 37, No Naked Flames posted their first win of the championship in Race 4, but David Nixon’s Corby 36 and his band of merry men from Howth are still leading the class despite not winning today. Peter Rutter’s Corby 36, Quokka 7 is a brand new version and she is having a great regatta. Winning two races today, Quokka 7 is in second place overall and ahead of a string of rivals who will race in this year’s Rolex Commodores’ Cup. Steve Northmore’s A35, Waterjet is lying third overall but this class title looks to be between the two Corbys.
Peter Morton’s First 34.7 Salvo, had a great day at the office with two wins in class 3 propelling them to first place in class having been fourth overnight. The opposite can be said of Alexander Christie’s Quarter Tonner, ASAP. Apart from a second in the first race of the day, the quarter tonner struggled in the tide and freshening breeze later on in the day and slipped to second overall. Neville Hodkin’s X-362 Sport are hanging onto third spot, but this class looks like it is still wide open.
Two races are scheduled for Sunday 15 of June, when the class winners and overall IRC Champion will be decided. The overall champion will be the yacht with the least number of points and at the moment, five of the six classes are tying for the overall title. It doesn’t get much closer than that.