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Displaying items by tag: Easter Challenge

April has come upon us with so many podium positions suddenly taken by Irish sailors in major events that you could have been forgiven for thinking that our usual April 1st specials had been allowed to run on for a day or two extra writes W M Nixon. But before fully savouring the new successes, we must bid a final farewell to March, which had its moments of extreme excitement - and some taking of silverware too.

Nothing was more extreme than the RORC Easter Challenge in the Solent from March 25th to 27th, with the tail-end of the winter providing one final ferocious flick for a fleet which included several bats with Irish connections And within the series, nothing was more extreme than Black Sunday, March 27th, when hyper- black striker squalls of the kind that would make you wonder if the roof on the house was safe, let alone if you could carry extra downwind sails on the boat, were top of the agenda as they swept in at record speeds.

Yet Black Sunday was the best day for the Irish, with two wins being recorded in the final race. Until then, Anthony O’Leary’s Kery 40 Antix in the Fast40+ division had been had been out of the frame – albeit by a small margin – by what the owner had cheerfully admitted to be “silly mistakes”. But on that final day as mayhem was the experience of most of the fleet, Antix was beautifully in control at top performance, tearing up the Solent in a blaze of spray to take the final race win, though she wasn’t to finish first overall.

But in Class 2, Conor Phelan’s 2008-vintage Ker 36 Jump Juice had been lying second throughout the series, despite being up against some superbly-sailed boats which included America’s Cup sailors among their crews. Yet even the AC aces found themselves wiping out in spectacular style on Black Sunday, while Jump Juice streaked along in cool control to take the race win and the Class win overall to make Conor Phelan of Royal Cork YC the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” for March 2016.

Published in Sailor of the Month

Royal Cork Yacht Club's Jump Juice (Conor Phelan) has won the 17–boat class two fleet of RORC's Easter Challenge on the Solent today in dramatic fashion. Clubmate Antix (Anthony O'Leary) at the helm of Antix was the winner of today's breezy FAST 40+ race but the Royal Cork yacht did not retain the overall trophy won in 2015 and finished fourth overall.

If traditionally the RORC Easter Challenge is the Royal Ocean Racing Club's coaching regatta, today's lesson centred upon heavy weather sailing technique.

As the fleet returned to yesterday's start area around Peel Bank, conditions were sunny and relatively benign, but with giant grey clouds looming. During today's one race, a squall stuck down the fleet with gale force gusts of up to 40 knots. In addition to numerous broaches, there were two man overboard incidents; one on James Neville's INO XXX racing in the FAST 40+ class, the other on RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine's First 40, La Réponse.

On La Réponse the vang trimmer got washed overboard during a Chinese gybe. As McIrvine described it: "We were absolutely dead downwind and a little bit by the lee and a big gust took us the other way. We let the vang off too much and the boat rolled and we Chinesed in."

Fortunately the MOB's lifejacket inflated and they were recovered after a few minutes and hauled onto a RIB by RORC Commodore Michael Boyd and lead coach, Jim Saltonstall. The incident cost La Réponse victory in IRC Two, where today's race was claimed by former RORC Commodore Mike Greville on his Ker 39 Erivale III and the class prize went to Ireland's Conor Phelan and his Ker 37, Jump Juice.

Phelan described today: "We were happy to pull it off because the conditions were quite challenging." During the race they saw 35 knots. "I thought we were going to go down the mine on the run," said tactician Mike Budd. "We had to drop the kite and do two gybes at the bottom which was a bit wild but our main competitor [La Réponse] span out at that point which was bad luck to them because they sailed well."

With the big forecast, eight of the 10 FAST40+ class pitched up today but only four finished. While James Neville's INO XXX got away well at the pin, Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe II did well being first to hoist her kite. However the South Africans subsequently struggled to retrieve their kite causing it to fly like a flag from the masthead. Eventually the crew relinquished, performing a 'chase boat drop' with the assistance of RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen.

unnamed 37

Anthony O'Leary's Antix at full speed on the Solent this afternoon. Photo: Paul Wyeth

Today's FAST 40+ race was won by Anthony O'Leary's Ker 40, Antix. For the Irish two time Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup winner, this event was their first sailing this season. However O'Leary acknowledged that Antix prefers the big conditions. "Pound for pound, we sail better in a gale than in a calm." However, in similar conditions, they had finished fourth in yesterday's race. "We made some silly mistakes and you deserve to get punished for that. Our mark rounding was getting better as the weekend went on."

Ultimately Texan William Coates' Ker 43 Otra Vez was the overall winner of the FAST40+ class' first ever regatta. Peter Morton's Carkeek 40 Mk3 Girls on Film didn't compete today leaving Sir Keith Mills' Ker 40+ Invictus to take second overall.

Mills stated: "We saw 37 knots of wind and then various things started blowing away and we had a wonderful broach, when we nearly lost one of our guys over the side. We hit something like 23-24 knots downwind, but I had so much water in my face that I couldn't see the instruments. You need a snorkel and goggles! They are wet boats but such great fun to sail. My boat is like racing a dinghy."

Despite a strong challenge from David Franks' JPK 10.10 Strait Dealer, which claimed three bullets in five races, it was the newer, larger JPK 10.80 Sunrise that prevailed in IRC Three, winning today's race.

"This is the first time I have won a yacht race - which is why we're drinking at 1100!" enthused Sunrise's skipper, Tom Kneen. "We've only had the boat for four weeks and she's just astonishing - very very fast and in quite difficult conditions."

Kneen experienced his first Chinese gybe yesterday, but today calmed down, which he attributed to the coaching they received yesterday. "That was very useful - about moving our weight around the boat which makes such a difference. The whole process of this weekend has enabled us to build, so I am looking forward to the season."

In IRC Four Harry Heijst and his Winsome claimed today's race and the overall class win. The conditions over the Easter weekend perfectly suited the classic Dutch S&S 41. One of the most impressive performances in IRC Four was that of the Sam Laidlaw-helmed Quarter Tonner, Aguila. "It is a real handful and very hard to get uphill because you are almost overpowered," said Laidlaw of sailing the mini boat in the big wind. "It was gusting 35-38 knots, but we were planning at 16!"

Quarter Tonners aren't supposed to plane? "Someone forgot to tell the boat that! We got to the bottom of the run and all we could see was white water everywhere. We had a great time - great fun."

Racing Manager, Nick Elliott concluded: "While conditions were challenging over the regatta, this provided the perfect opportunity to gain valuable experience from our world class coaches and will certainly have jump started each participant's season."

Published in RORC

High speed, adrenalin pumping, ultra-competitive racing came to the Solent on the first day of RORC's Easter Challenge 2016 in what many agree is the most exciting development to have taken place in big boat keel boat racing in the UK for decades writes James Boyd.

The long-awaited advent of competition for the new FAST40+s, the big boat class at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Easter Challenge, coincided today with chilly, but summery conditions. Three races were sailed with the wind peaking at 15-20 knots during race two. Royal Cork's Antix scored a 9,8,4 to be eighth overall in a fleet of ten.

Among the ten FAST40s, there was a different winner in each race, but ultimately there were two stand-out performers in American William Coates' Ker 43, Otra Vez, and Peter Morton's brand new Carkeek 40 Mk3, Girls on Film. They won the third and first races, respectively, while Sir Keith Mills' Ker 40+, Invictus, claimed race two when the FAST40+s were sailing at wind speed.

"It has gone really well," said FAST40+ Class President, Robert Greenhalgh. "It has been a lot of hard work by everybody, but all the owners have pulled in the same direction to make it happen, and have spent the money and got the boats. The RORC and IRC [the RORC Racing Office] have been very supportive and we've had a lot of sponsors that have come in to help bring it all together."

Greenhalgh was pleased that most teams posted good results today.

Himself a former Volvo Ocean Race winner and 18ft skiff and International 14 World Championship, Greenhalgh calls tactics on Invictus which today posted a 6-1-8 scoreline. This leaves them third overall, six points adrift of Girls on Film and tied with two modified GP42s, Tony Dickins' Jubilee and South African Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe II.

Invictus got buried at the start of the first race, got away cleanly in race two and then suffered a mishap coming into the top mark in the final race that cost them. "This is about close racing and not making mistakes," advises Greenhalgh.

Overall leader by two points today is Otra Vez. FAST40+ crewscan include up to five ISAF Cat3 'professionals' of their 11. Sailing with Coates are heavyweight Volvo Ocean Race veterans Steve Hayles, Luke Molloy and Phil Harmer.

"The fleet is very high quality, it is living up to expectations. It was fantastic racing and it is only going to get better, which is what is nice about it," said Coates of today's inaugural racing for the FAST40+s. Previously Coates raced his Ker 43 in the US and the Caribbean before moving her to the Mediterranean last year and now onto the UK. "I think we improved a little bit every race. Most of the crew had never stepped on board before yesterday - they are excellent, but it was about getting familiar with some of the basics today. Plus we do have a little bit of waterline [advantage]. If we get better starts, it helps get us into clear air."

While the FAST40+s stole the show today, in the other three classes there were also standout performers, including RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine on his First 40, La Réponse, whose two bullets in today's final races, give him a three point lead in IRC Two. Second overall is O'Leary's clubmate Conor Phelan sailing Jump Juice, who counts 2,5,4 in the 17–boat fleet.

In IRC Four, it is the closest at the topwith Sam Laidlaw's Quarter Tonner, Aguila, a mere half point ahead of Harry J. Heijst's perennial S&S 41, Winsome.

In IRC Three the latest hardware is prevailing in Tom Kneen's Sunrise. This is a JPK 1080 sistership to last year's Rolex Fastnet Race winner, Courrier Du Leon. Today Kneen and his Plymouth-based crew were top scorers posting a 1-2-2, despite having only had the boat for three weeks and today being just the third day of racing her.

"We had an Elan E4, in which we had a brilliant season last year and learned a lot. I was looking for a boat of this size which would be competitive and so far it has been. I am absolutely delighted," saidKneen, who intends to enter the selection for the British team in this year's Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup.

While Kneen has had to adjust from wheel to tiller steering over the last few days, today came good he felt because of the first class effort of the crew, which includes five who sailed with him last season.

For this time of year, it would have been hard to beat today's conditions. Sadly tomorrow the wind is looking tougher with gale force gusts predicted for the afternoon. Principal Race Officer Stuart Childerley is keeping fingers crossed that conditions will be sailable in the morning before the front arrives.

Published in RORC

For three days over the bank holiday weekend, the yachting world's eyes will be glued to the Solent as the Fast 40+ class makes its debut en masse at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's domestic season opener, the RORC Easter Challenge.

Between eight and 10 Fast 40+s will be competing and with the fleet expected to grow to 14 this summer, pundits are observing that this class represents the most competitive homegrown handicap inshore keelboat racing the UK has seen since the heyday of the Admiral's Cup.

To those unfamiliar with the Fast 40+, effectively it does what it says on the tin: Boats have an IRC TCC of 1.210-1.270 (although a lower limit of 1.191 is permitted for 2016). To put this into context, original Ker 40s such as Hooligan and Baraka GP represent the slowest, while Peter Morton's brand new Carkeek 40 Mk3, Girls on Film, is at the upper limit, along with American Bill Coates' Ker 43, Otra Vez, and Sir Keith Mills' Ker 40+, Invictus.

Otherwise Fast40+s must have:

- Hull length (LH) of 12.00-12.60m LOA (*<13.3m)
- Maximum draft of 3m (*3.15m)
- Displacement:length ratio of <90 (*<110 and <124 for 2016 season)
- Speed ratio of TCC²/LH =0.125< (*0.120< and 0.117< for 2016)
- Owner-driver
- 11 crew with a maximum weight of 950kg
- Up to five ISAF Cat 3 'pros' on board

*if launched before 1st September 2015.

Class rules have been broadened for this season to allow more boats in.

"I think it is a natural fit - we aren't trying to force anything, it has just evolved," explains Robert Greenhalgh, who is Fast40+ Class President. "It has taken a couple of years, but to get - all being well - 10 boats at the Easter Challenge, plus some new ones rolling in this season, is fantastic. All the owners have remained positive and are keen for it."

And the boats are fast. Greenhalgh, a former 18ft skiff and International 14 World Champion, and a Volvo Ocean Race winner, competes on Sir Keith Mills' Invictus. "The boat regularly hits 20 knots. We saw 23 last year when it was windy."

The largest contingent of Fast 40+s are former GP42s. At present three are entered in the Easter Challenge - South African Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe II, Mark Rijkse's 42° South and Tony Dickin's Jubilee. The GP42 was originally the smaller, no less high tech brother of the TP52 and competed on the Audi MedCup briefly over 2009-2010.

On the secondhand market you get a lot of bang for your buck with a GP42, as South African Mike Bartholomew found when, just over two years ago, he acquired Tokoloshe II. This Botin & Carkeek design, as Madrid, won the final GP42 MedCup season.

"I think it is great for the development of the sport generally, because it has created a lot of enthusiasm," says Bartholomew of the Fast40+. "And this enthusiasm hopefully will be carried on to other classes as well. Last year there were three or four boats, but this year there is going to be at least 12, so it should be great fun."

Bartholomew adds that he enjoys the speed of his boat, but the racing is also ultra-competitive. "That was illustrated at Cowes Week last year, racing against Invictus and Rebellion. In one race, after four hours, we crossed the line within seconds of each other, having sailed the whole race changing lead and being in very close contract - it's like dinghy racing."
Tokoloshe Easter 2015 PW
South African Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe II - © RORC/Paul Wyeth - pwpictures.com

Having successfully campaigned his Corby 36, James Neville has graduated up to the Fast40+ acquiring Richard Matthews' Oystercatcher XXX, a Judel-Vrolijk designed HH42. With a TCC of 1.228, INO XXX has the lowest rating of the Fast40+s competing at the RORC Easter Challenge.

"We are really looking forward it - to have 10 similar boats out, all taking it pretty seriously it really exciting," says Neville. "The HH42 is a little bit heavier and rates a bit better and should perform in the higher ranges."

In swapping boats, Neville has also had to increase the size of his crew from eight to 11, but enjoys the HH42's speed, having already touched 24 knots.

While boat contact with team RIBs is normally prohibited in the Fast40+, this rule has been eased for the RORC Easter Challenge as the class enters into the spirit of the event being the RORC's season shake-down, training regatta.

With Easter falling very early this year, so far there has been little opportunity for training, so teams are welcoming this event too. Neville is a Easter Challenge regular and acknowledges the worth of the free world class coaching it offers from legends such as Jim Saltonstall to America's Cup veterans such as RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen and Andreas Josenhans of North U. Regatta Services. "We could be a bit rusty, but the coaches do a good job."

Racing at the RORC Easter Challenges takes place over 25-27th March with must-attend post-race debriefs occurring daily at the RORC Cowes clubhouse, chocolate egg prizes on offer as well as high level coaching on the water and a socially acceptable finish time on Easter Sunday.

Published in RORC

#rorc – While it is always tempting to spend money on new sails or other go-faster widgets, coaching is often overlooked by amateur crews as a means of gaining boat speed through improved trim and set-up or just generally getting around the race course in a more efficient, slick manner.

One option is to hire your own coach. Another is to take part in the RORC's UK season opener, the RORC Easter Challenge, taking place over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend (3rd to the 5th April), where some of the country's leading experts will be on the water to offer crews advice. This might be general observations, but crews are also encouraged to ask the coaches to focus on any specific aspects they feel in need of attention. And all of this is FREE to competitors.

As always, the RORC Easter Challenge coaching team will be led by uber-coach Jim Saltonstall, ably assisted by RORC CEO and former America's Cup coach Eddie Warden Owen, plus Mason King. After making their successful debut at the event last year, the Easter Challenge will also see the return of North U Regatta Services, represented by sailmaker/coaches Chuck Allen and Andreas Josenhans, who are flying across from the USA especially for the event.

Based out of North's Rhode Island loft, Allen is a former two time college all-American champion and now a one design specialist while Josenhans, from Canada, is a two time Soling and Star World Champion, was a trimmer on Bill Koch's America's Cup winner, America3, and holds a lengthy, distinguished CV in elite level international yacht racing.

North U Regatta Services regularly attends regattas in the USA such as the NOOD series and Quantum Key West Race Week.

Like last year, Allen and Josenhans will also be joining Jim Saltonstall in the invaluable post-race debriefs, where they will be analysing each day's action on the water aided by photos and video. Following the RORC's merger with the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in Cowes, these debriefs will this year take place in the new clubhouse and not in the Events Centre at Cowes Yacht Haven.

Making his debut at the RORC Easter Challenge is four time UK Match Racing Champion turned Figaro sailor Nick Cherry, with his 32ft Figaro Beneteau II, Redshift. This year Cherry is gunning to improve British results in the ultra-competitive Solitaire du Figaro, singlehanded offshore racing's unofficial world championship and is making use of the coaching available at the Easter Challenge in his work-up.

"We get a lot of coaching in France, but it is always good to get some eyes off the boat and Jim Saltonstall's feedback is always invaluable," says Cherry, who admits that his first coaching from the eminent Saltonstall occurred at an Eric Twiname youth regatta when he was nine years old. "It is always entertaining to hear him talking, but he's always got something useful to say. And people said the North U seminar was good last year. A lot of the sailing I do with the Redshift program involves sailing fully crewed and there are some different techniques to doing that. So to get some feedback on the techniques for that will definitely be helpful."

Cherry adds that he is hoping that the coaching team will be able to give him some feedback on the new sails he'll have on Redshift.

An Easter Challenge regular is also returning in the form of Mike Moxley and his crew on the HOD35 Malice, recently returned from having competed in the RORC Caribbean 600 on board a chartered boat.

For Moxley the free coaching at the Easter Challenge is one of the event's prime attractions.

"It is incredibly useful. Unless you pay someone else to do it, you don't get a professional coach coming up to you and looking, for example, at the sail set, the twist in the main, how the jib is set and the rig, etc. Also being able to take trimmers off the boat and on to a RIB, you get to see things from 30-40 metres away that often you can't fully see from on the boat.

"It is very useful to have an expert actually taking you through different aspects of what you're doing and telling you whether it is right, wrong or indifferent. In fact it is a bit disappointing when they come alongside and they say everything is okay and they head off to see someone else!"

The Easter Challenge is unique in the RORC calendar in that RRS 41 - Outside Help is waived to permit coaches to come on board during racing or, equally, crew to jump on to a coaching RIB to see their set-up from off the boat.

Crews looking for coaching are advised to let the RORC know in advance if there are any specific aspects of their sailing, sails or trim that they wish to have examined.

Published in RORC
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#rorc – The RORC Easter Challenge, which offers a unique training ground for owners and crews over a three-day inshore regatta starts on Good Friday. A new initiative for 2014 is the North U. Regatta Service that will enhance what is already a popular and unique coaching event in the UK.

"It will be a great service to the boats who want to improve their all-round performance ready for a full race season," says RORC Racing Manager, Nick Elliott.

Coaching guru, Jim Saltonstall's inimitable on-the-water tuition and post-race video debriefs will be augmented by the North U. Regatta Service team from the USA, who will be providing coaching and performance analysis tailored to sail trim and speed. 

"The fleet for the RORC Easter Challenge is looking good," adds Elliott. "As well as being joined by regular RORC competitors and boats from France, The Netherlands and as far as Hong Kong, we are also seeing potential candidates interested in the RYA Selection Trials for this summer's Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup. They'll be a competitive fleet on the start line in Cowes, fighting it out for Easter eggs and prizes."

The RORC Easter Challenge is open to Spinlock IRC rated yachts and the entry fee includes pre-race weather related informal chats, on-the-water coaching and post-race debrief sessions in Cowes.

Published in RORC
Tagged under

RORC Easter Sailing Challenge – Day 2 Light winds are keeping Irish entries in the bottom half of the respective IRC fleets at RORC's Easter challenge this weekend. After four races sailed, Royal Cork's Anthony O'Leary lies sixth from ten boats in the IRC 1 division. In IRC 2 Dun Laoghaire's Niall Dowling sailing a brand new J111 also lies sixth from ten. James Boyd reports from the Solent: With a forecast indicating no wind on the Solent, the race committee and competitors were blessed in being able to get two races in on the second day of the RORC Easter Challenge, once again held in unseasonably summer-like conditions.

While the first start was scheduled for 1000, a windless Solent saw racing postponed for three hours. Competitors were kept occupied in the Cowes Yacht Haven Events Centre with a valuable talk from Jim Saltonstall on race preparation.

Early afternoon the race committee made the brave call to get underway on a course off Hill Head despite the apparent mill pond. In fact there was wind off the water and a meaningful race was held. As women's match racer Josie Gibson, helming the new Mat 1010 in IRC 3, observed: "It was really good of them to try and do it, because the alternative was to wait for the new breeze. It wasn't totally unfair but it was just very very light. There was an awful lot of shear. At the top we were getting 5-6 knots but it was really glassy on the water."

At the end of the first race the wind began to veer into the southwest as the sea breeze prevailed and for race two, the wind picked up to an unexpected 13-14 knots with the tide running left to right across the course on the beat. From the first race, where crews were being sat down to leeward, for race two they were up on the weather rail, fully hiking.

At the end of play, in IRC1 Mike Bartholomew's King 40 Tokoloshe now shares the top spot with Rob Gray and Sam Laidlaw's Farr 50, Bob, the biggest boat in the RORC Easter Challenge fleet.

"Sam sailed the first race and we got away quite nicely. She goes like a rocketship in the light stuff," recounted Gray of his Farr 50 which is looking very smart with a new paint job and, for this season, a stiffer mast, new mainsail and an enlarged asymmetric kite. "We were sailing faster than the apparent wind. Tokoloshe is sailing very very well. In the second race today she was way to the right and was first to catch the new breeze." The two boats share the top spot due to Tokoloshe posting a fourth in today's light opener.

In IRC Two, frustrating Andrew McIrvine in his second placed First 40 La Réponse, Andrew Williams' Prima 38 Max 'Ed Out! holds the lead having won both today's races, putting them two points ahead of the RORC Commodore. Williams and his crew have made the trip up from Plymouth to compete. For this season they have changed the name of their boat from Mighty Max III after they enlarged the size of their biggest spinnaker by 35%.

"This is the first time we have raced her with the new rating and it has made a tremendous difference," said Williams. In today's ultra-light first race Williams said it was all about keeping the boat moving. "She is a 14 year old design and we have had three firsts and a fourth, which for a scratch crew with a boat with a new sail configuration we've only been out once with - we feel quite pleased with the way she is performing."

Chris and Hannah Neve's high experienced crew on the Lymington-based First 35 No Chance are slipping away in first place in IRC 3 after posting a 2-1 today. They lead Louise Morton's Mat 1010 by three points. The RORC Easter Challenge is only Mat 1010's second competitive outing. The boat is being sailed by Morton's all-female crew that normally race on the Quarter Tonner Espada, with the exception of Volvo Ocean Race winning navigator Jules Salter, taking time off from his latest campaign with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. "This morning was quite like Abu Dhabi," quipped helm Josie Gibson.

IRC4 is the only class to have a run-away leader in Grant Gordon's J/97 Fever, now nine points clear of Paul Blowers and Nick Daniels Impala Patriot Games, while in the J/80s Kevin Sproul made a good come back after yesterday's rig issues to win both today's races.

Despite the light wind to start with today, the conditions once again proved ideal for the on-the-water coaching provided by Jim Saltonstall, Barry Dunning and their team. The RORC Easter Challenge is a 'coaching regatta' and the competitors have been lapping up the advice during races as well as the post-race video analysis ashore.

"Today was brilliant because you could concentrate on sail shapes and not get too distracted. At least you aren't battling around in survival conditions like you normally are," commented Ben Jones, the main trimmer on Mike Greville's Erivale of today's coaching. "It is always nice to have a view from outside of the boat and there are some good people there telling you gently and sensitivity that you've got it slightly wrong. We have suffered from a bit of pressure. It is very useful."

"It is really good to have it," agreed Louise Morton of the coaching. "We enjoy going to the briefings and seeing on video how far forward we are for the starts or not. You pick up one or two things every time. Just things like trim and whether we should be sitting further forward on the boat. Jim is very incite-full."

A further two races are scheduled to start at 1000 tomorrow, the final day of racing at the RORC Easter Challenge with a forecast similar to today's.

For more information, visit the RORC web site: www.rorc.org

Published in RORC

The brand new J/111 Arabella, belonging to Dun Laoghaire's Niall Dowling joins Royal Cork's Anthony O'Leary sailing Antix for this weekend's season opener on the Solent for the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Easter Challenge.

Summer looks set to come early as the RORC 2011 sailing season opener gets underway on the Solent this Friday with the first races of the club's annual RORC Easter Challenge and mostly sunny weather and light to moderate winds forecast. Racing is set to take place over three days, concluding on Easter Sunday.

The RORC Easter Challenge stands alone in the club's calendar as aside from enabling competitors to brush the cobwebs off after the winter break, it is also set up as a training regatta complete with on the water coaching.

"It is unique, because while it is a proper regatta and people take it seriously, they want to win it, we change the rules to allow outside assistance," says RORC CEO, Eddie Warden Owen. "So it is a training regatta, with an opportunity to be coached while racing."

Among the coaches will be Warden-Owen, Jim Saltonstall, Barry Dunning along with representatives from several leading sailmakers. They will be following the fleet in RIBs and the rule change allows them to jump on board boats, or take crew off boats to demonstrate what they could be doing better. The J/80s taking part will have their own specialist coach.

At the time of writing the entry stood at 61 boats, which Warden Owen says he is satisfied with given the Easter break is unusual this year with the royal wedding taking place the following weekend, and many expected to be taking the entire week off.

Late entries among the 61 include RORC Vice Commodore Mike Greville and his newly re-keeled Ker 39, Erivale III and Rolex Commodores' Cup competitors Chris and Hannah Neve on their First 35, No Chance.

While Rob Gray and Sam Laidlaw's Farr 52, Bob is the lone entry in Class Zero, the competition is looking good in Class 1, where in addition to Erivale III, the line-up features Irish 2010 Rolex Commodores' Cup winner Anthony O'Leary and his Ker 39 Antix, Nick and Annie Haigh's much campaigned DK46 Dark and Steamy, the Niklas Zennström-backed Farr 45 Kolga, crewed by the UKSA, as well as UK-based South African Mike Bartholemew and his King 40 Tokoloshe.

"I think getting the on-water coaching, and seeing the sail trim from views you can't see from on board the boat, plus the videos afterwards with Jim Saltonstall - that is all valuable input," says Dark and Steamy's Nick Haigh. As to the racing in Class 1 Haigh says: "I think it is going to be a competitive fleet. My wife and myself are looking forward to it."

Mike Bartholemew's views echo those of Haigh. "I think it is very beneficial because you have got some of the local super experts giving tips and advice. It is a great thing," he says of the coaching, adding that there are possibly as many as six boats capable of winning Class 1.

The RORC Easter Challenge line-up will also feature round the world sailor Brian Thompson, recently returned from making an attempt on the record for the non-stop lap of the planet aboard the French maxi-trimaran, Banque Populaire. For the RORC Easter Challenge, Thompson will be trading his 40m long 45 knot ride for the more sedate pace of a J/109, skippering Toe In The Water. This is one of two boats being fielded by the Toe In The Water charity, which takes injured servicemen and women sailing as part of their recovery process.
"They are such a nice group of people that you meet and they have obviously gone through a difficult period after Headley Court, where they do their rehabilitation, mixed up with the amazing core crew of volunteer sailors who are a mix of civilians and military. You meet a big variety of people," says Thompson, who has been involved with Toe in the Water from its outset.

While there is a strong line-up of J/109s, all eyes will be on the brand new J/111 Arabella, belonging to Niall Dowling. Other new hardware on the race course will be MAT 1010, a Mark Mills design, freshly arrived in the UK from her builders, MAT in Turkey. At the Easter Challenge she is to be campaigned by Louise Morton and the crack crew from the Quarter Tonner Espada, plus, over the weekend, the added talent of Volvo Ocean Race winning navigator, Jules Salter.

Racing gets underway at the RORC Easter Challenge on Friday with a first warning signal at 1255 BST when two races are scheduled, followed by three with an earlier start time of 1000 on Saturday and another two on Easter Sunday.

Published in RORC

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