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Will Any Irish Commodore’s Cup Defence Be Only A Sail Training Exercise?

7th May 2016
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The big boys’ game….Antix in fine form in the RORC Easter Challenge 2016. But it was during this event that it became clear the newest generation of the Fast40+ class marked an up-grade in performance, and the amateur crew on the now-veteran Antix will have to focus their efforts with total attention if they’re to be at the races at all. The big boys’ game….Antix in fine form in the RORC Easter Challenge 2016. But it was during this event that it became clear the newest generation of the Fast40+ class marked an up-grade in performance, and the amateur crew on the now-veteran Antix will have to focus their efforts with total attention if they’re to be at the races at all.

It has been confirmed by the Irish Cruiser-Racing Association (ICRA) that it’s extremely unlikely that Ireland will be mounting a defence in July 2016 of the RORC Commodore’s Cup, which we so convincingly won in 2014 with the team of Catapult, Antix and Quokka 8. Apparently the defence has foundered on the difficulties of finding a person or group willing to take on the campaigning of a third boat which would be suitable to back up Anthony O’Leary’s 2014 Ker 40 Antix (ex-Catapult), and Michael Boyd’s new JPK 10.80. Michael Boyd and Anthony O’Leary had lined up a possible charter of Quokka 8 on a speculative (and expensive) retention fee in the hope that a team of optimal make-up could take shape, but no-one has proved willing to take up the costly full-charter option to make her the third boat. W M Nixon reflects on this unhappy follow-up to a good news story which helped lift Ireland out of the gloom of the recession in 2014.

The Commodore’s Cup 2016 as a Sail Training exercise? It’s one of the less crazy scenarios which is emerging from the conclusion that a realistic and highly-powered defence of Ireland’s 2014 win is simply not on the cards. The word is that the two front-line boats have been unable to find people with mega-resources and a crew willing to take up the third slot with Quokka, or possibly another boat altogether. Thus all bets are off.

To outsiders, it all sounds like a bit of the old hissy-fits, and more. Surely something could have been done? But those who have been in the midst of the Commodore’s Cup cauldron have some idea of both the stress involved (which is huge at the front of the fleet), and just how very much it is more important than ever to have a finely balanced team.

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The big day – the Irish team park their tanks on the Royal Yacht Squadron lawn in Cowes after winning the Commodore’s Cup, July 2014

It all looked so easy once 2014’s win had been stitched up. But as the post-series review here on August 2nd 2014 revealed, the stresses and strains – particularly on Anthony O’Leary who did the heavy lifting in putting the team together and keeping the show on the road – were beyond most people’s imagining.

With hindsight now, it is easy to say that it was somewhere back towards Easter this year that the writing on the wall began to appear about how Ireland was going to have to opt out of the 2016 series. The new wave of Fast40+ boats on the Solent in the RORC Easter Challenge had been giving the already senior Antix a very hard time. If Anthony O’Leary and his crew were going to give of their best in campaigning their own boat in what is rapidly emerging as the hottest class in Europe, then they didn’t really need the distraction of rustling up a Commodore’s Cup team to add to their struggles.

For sure, back in 2014 the Commodore’s Cup was top billing. But the remorseless growth of the Fast 40s is making them the top show in town for 2016. They’d seven or eight of them in serious contention last year. At Easter, it was 10 and 11 boats, many of them barely out of the wrapping. In two weeks time, when they have their next major three day event on the Solent from May 20th to 22nd, we will be looking at a dozen and more boats so hot you could fry an egg on them.

Numbers like this, at this level of competition, inevitably attract the heavy hitters among owners and top professional sailors, providing a challenge which you either take head on, or opt out of altogether. For the amateur crew of Antix, it’s a case of take it or leave it. In taking it with full commitment to Fast40+ racing, they simply have to accept that they can’t overload themselves by the extra effort of running Commodore’s Cup involvement, though perhaps they could contemplate being in an Irish squad if by some miracle the perfect team package is put completely and exactly in place by some sort of offshore racing fairy godmother.

But you don’t get fairy godmothers in the rough tough world of offshore racing. The perfect dream package isn’t there, and it won’t be. So Antix and her crew of dedicated amateurs are going to be in the David and Goliath situation of throwing themselves totally into the fray of the Fast 40s, and we can only hope that the original David and Goliath scenario is replicated, for this is definitely the big boys’ game.

And yet, and yet……there’s no such thing as an inevitable outcome. Who knows what might emerge from the first proper gladiatorial confrontation of the Fast 40s in their newly confident expanded numbers? We may be saying this morning that an Irish defence is over and out. But surely it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that in the heady post-regatta atmosphere at the RORC’s Cowes base in a fortnight’s time, somebody might say: Why don’t we as a crew take a boat and join up with Antix and the new JPK 10.80 to race for Ireland?

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The JPK 10.80 Courier du Leon wins the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race

Stranger things have happened in putting Commodore’s Cup teams together in the past. In 2014, so speculative was the buildup that Anthony O’Leary admitted afterwards that until the American Ker 40 Catapult was actually unloaded from a Transatlantic ship on European soil, he wasn’t a hundred per cent convinced she was going to appear at all.

Yet ironically, there was Catapult on the quay as hoped for, after various dockside and clubhouse meetings and negotiations in Key West way back in January. But the whereabouts of the team’s third boat Quokka 8, which had been chartered by Michael Boyd and Niall Dowling, was now a matter for concern.

She’d been campaigning in the Caribbean through the winter, but had been scheduled to be shipped back in plenty of time for the start of the new RORC offshore season. But the ship she was aboard was re-routed, then re-routed again. She arrived back this side of the Atlantic barely in time for the team’s first get-together at Volvo Cork Week in July 2014. But then it all became sweetest fantasy, as Quokka won Volvo Cork Week overall, following which the Irish team won the Commodore’s Cup going away.

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Quokka 8, overall winner of Volvo Cork Week 2014

So who knows what might just somehow develop. But meanwhile the critics are sharpening their knives, and there’s much muttering about it being disgraceful that Ireland doesn’t look like defending a trophy we were so pleased to win just two short years ago.

Thus a suggestion is floating around that ICRA should be prepared to allow just about any old team to go and join the scrap for the Commodore’s Cup 2016. Why not, they suggest, just allow three J/109s to go along to represent the Ould Sod, and give their crews a real taste of sailing at the sharp end?

Certainly the Commodore’s Cup as a Sail Training event has a distinct Quixotic appeal. But underneath the whole story is the reality that while in places like the Solent the top end of high-profile sailing is invariably dominated by professionals, within and around Ireland we don’t really do professional competitive sailing at all.

We’re compulsive and obsessive amateurs, and that’s the way we like it. If our sailing isn’t fitted in to cherished little slivers of free time carved out of the day job, then we don’t really think it’s genuine sport at all. Thus while it’s fine and dandy every so often to take on the Solent heavies and maybe just occasionally show them the way, we’d just as soon save our limited holiday time for a proper tilt at the West Cork Regattas or events like the ICRA Nationals, where we’re racing against people we know, and not shelling out money for exorbitant Cowes rentals. Like it or not, that’s the way we are.

Meanwhile, it’s rumoured that the 2018 Commodore’s Cup will be based of teams of just two boats each. Now they tell us…….But that’s not teams. That’s multiple doubles matches.

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A demanding animal to sail. The tiller-steered Ker 40 Antix is not for the faint-hearted

Read also: ICRA Statement on 2016 Irish Commodore's Cup team

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