Day five of the Rolex Commodores’ Cup 2008 and the 45 competitors and their 15 teams found themselves challenged by a new course format. Today’s single race was around a variety of marks in the central and eastern Solent, sailed in an awkward southeasterly breeze of around 12 knots.
In Class One John Shepherd’s Fair Do’s VII led around the race course as usual, but behind her at the weather mark was the surprising sight of John Dean’s Poppy of Portland Marina, one of the slower of the big boats, hot on her heels in second place.
'We made a reasonable start and went off towards the island shore and that seemed to be the thing to do,' recounted Dean modestly. 'We reckoned there was a tidal advantage and the wind was a bit better that way.'
Poppy of Portland Marina is a new boat for Dean this year and a sistership to Rolex Commodores’ Cup defending champion Géry Trentesaux’s highly successful Lady Courrier. Having earned herself such a good place so early on in the race, Dean and his Poole-based team defended well and it was only around two thirds of the way into the race that they were passed.
'We didn’t make too many mistakes today. We were ahead of Dark & Steamy which pleased us,' continued Dean, referring to Nick and Anne Haigh’s big boat in GBR Black. The unusual name of the boat relates to the new marina (next door to the 2012 Olympic sailing venue) which Dean’s company is developing. GBR teams earned the top two spots in Class One with Fair Do’s VII taking second. This, combined with a sixth place from Jerry Otter’s Erivale III in Class Two and a second place from Peter Rutter’s small boat, Quokka 7, enabled the GBR Red to increase their lead. But with 87.5 points they are only ten ahead of France Blue team, where today Trentesaux’s Lady Courrier and their mid-sized boat, Cyrille LeGloahec’s Batistyl scored their worst results of the regatta to date – a sixth and an 11th respectively.
While Poppy of Portland Marina got her tactics right today, Lady Courrier got it wrong, choosing the mainland side of the course on the initial beat. Marty Kaye’s Holmatro, the Hong Kong team’s big boat, finished fourth in Class One, having also gone the right side. Calling tactics on board is Scottish Olympic and America’s Cup sailor Ian Budgen who explained the importance of having gone to the correct side.
'Off the start, there was a little bit of tide with us in the middle, but when you got out there was right hand pressure and it was that which the top mark was in. And it paid to get out into the favourable tide too.'
Budgen says that on Holmatro, they have suffered sailing an unfamiliar chartered boat. 'We had a little bit of a difficult time because we are one of the slower boats in the fleet so we have to fight for clear air as well as the shifts.' Given this a fourth place was a respectable result, the team having put together a consistent set of results to keep their team in fifth place, just two points astern of Ireland White. In Class Two the amazing Dutch on board Kees Kaan’s ROARK / Claus en Kaan Architecten in Netherland Red scored yet another victory, their fourth in the series. However today it was closer, less than half a minute on corrected time ahead of Eamonn Rohan’s new Blondie IV in Ireland Green.
Another top performer was Marc Alperovitch’s Class Three boat Prime Time, and today the saving grace in France Blue team.
'Our tactician is very happy,' commented Alperovitch. 'We had the right tactics. Most of the fleet went far too close to the mainland and were a lot over the layline.' Prime Time made her biggest gain by staying on the Isle of Wight side of the race course on the second long beat to the southeast.
Alperovitch adds that they did well today, scoring their second victory to date in the Rolex Commodores’ Cup partly due to the dogfight going on between the Irish Green and GBR Red teams in their class.
'They have roughly the same rating so they race in real time, whereas because we have a lower rating we sail our own race. And the fact that they were fighting with each other helped us.'
As an example of the tension mounting as the event nears its conclusion, so Peter Rutter’s Quokka 7 in GBR Red was luffed by Andrew Allen’s No Naked Flames close to the second leeward mark and having made an infringement carried out a 360 degree turn. 'This is the Rolex Commodores’ Cup and is a no discard regatta, so for the sake of the team and everyone we did a 360,' commented Rutter, who despite this finished second. La Trinité-sur-Mer based Prime Time, sailed by her crew from Paris and Brittany, won Class Three today by 2.5 minutes on corrected time ahead of Quokka 7 with Jamie McWilliam’s Hong Kong offshore race winner, Yeoman of Wight securing third.
Asked whether he felt a great responsibility sailing as part of defending champion Géry Trentesaux’s France Blue team, Alperovitch admitted: 'We feel we are the least experienced crew of the three. It is a big responsibility, but we are doing okay – apart from yesterday.' In the offshore race they finished 11th.
Tomorrow the Rolex Commodore’s Cup boats sail yet another course format, this time around the Isle of Wight on the old America’s Cup route (ie clockwise), but finishing at North Head, close to Hurst Castle at the western extremity of the Solent to avoid the powerful ebb tide. The race starts at 12:00hrs and the forecast is for a 20+ knot southwesterly wind. Top Six Teams - Provisional Positions following the Offshore Race:
Team / Points / Place
1 GBR Red / 87.5
2 France Blue / 97.5
3 Ireland Green / 105
4 Ireland White / 120
5 Hong Kong / 122
6 Netherlands Red / 141.5