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There has been controversy and disagreement in cruiser racing about crews ‘hiking out’ through lifelines on deck to get more upper body weight extended to help boat balance and performance … Rule changes have now come to “sitting on the rail” – an essential part of cruiser racing - though not always a pleasant or desired one, particularly in rough upwind conditions.

Extending the body as far out as possible, between lifelines, has become more obvious, even though that has been frowned upon by those who claim that the racing rules allow only for sitting on deck with the body fully inside the lifeline rails – apart from the legs of course, on the outside.

Now the IRC racing authorities have bowed to the inevitability of recognising reality and modified the rule on yacht ‘Crew Positions’ - This doesn’t seem to have got a lot of attention yet, but the racing season is only getting underway

“It is not unusual for crew sitting on the rail to be supported only at their upper legs when hiking facing outboard

“The term ‘sitting on the deck’ is difficult to define,” the IRC Technical Committee has acknowledged…..

“It is not unusual for crew sitting on the rail to be supported only at their upper legs when hiking facing outboard,” it said in announcing the rule change.

SITTING ON THE RAIL HIKING OUTSitting on the rail

To avoid unnecessary and difficult protests, the IRC says it has decided on “a simple and effective solution” … removing rule requirements but keeping the original intention so - When there are two lifelines, competitors facing outboard with their waists inside the lower lifeline may have the upper part of their bodies outside the upper lifeline ….

Lifelines shall be taut “ which is a proper safety requirement anyway, though not always observed as I have seen…. So the IRC change is just bringing reality to racing….

It would be good to see another change in the process of “sitting on the rail…” to where quite a few newcomers to the sport have told me over the seasons that they were sent when they asked to join a crew to get into sailing.

I’ve been told by quite a few that they were never given any further involvement with the boats they were crewing on, never learned much about sailing, so they left the sport…. Others seemed satisfied enough to be “human ballast”….

I’m not sure that does anything much for the popularity of our sport…..

Podcast below

Published in Tom MacSweeney

Sailors in the UK are enjoying spring racing and looking forward to the summer season, including the varied selection of International Rating Certificate (IRC) Championships that includes sailing events in the Irish Sea that attract interest from the Irish Cruiser Racer fleet.

Regional IRC Championships are held all around the British coast from Scotland to the Channel Islands, as well as a specific event for double handed crews, providing a large variety of venues, racing conditions and social events to be enjoyed both on and off the water. 

Last August, Waterford Harbour yacht Fools Gold skippered by Rob McConnell were Welsh IRC Championships winners and earlier that season, at another event on the British IRC calendar, the Howth J109 Storm (Pat Kelly) were winners at the Scottish Series.

Waterford Harbour yacht Fools Gold skippered by Rob McConnell were Welsh IRC Championships winners

Some events will incorporate other classes racing in IRC, for instance the HP30 class will hold its National Championship at Poole Regatta; Scottish Series is a major event in the RC35 annual class championship, and along with the Welsh National IRC Championship is also part of the Celtic Cup incorporating events in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The 2018 GBR IRC Championships programme 

· Solent – 4 events (May-Sept)
· Scottish – Scottish Series (May)
· Southern – Poole Regatta (May)
· Sussex – Sussex Regatta (June)
· South West – Falmouth Race Week (June)
· East Coast – Ramsgate Week (July)
· Welsh National – Cardigan Bay (August)
· Double Handed - Cowes (September)
· Channel Islands - Jersey (September)
· Autumn - Hamble (October)
· Inland – Windermere (November-March)

Published in RORC

It was a windless Easter Sunday for the third and final day of the RORC Easter Challenge that saw Ireland's only entry record a creditable fifth overall on the Solent.

As Afloat.ie reported earlier, former Cork Corinthian Quarter Ton Cup Champion Jason Losty sailing his First 36.7 Altair in the 12–boat IRC two division finished fifth after six races sailed.

At 0900 when the decision was announced, PRO Stuart Childerley explained: "Currently we have less than five knots on the Solent and we have a lot of flood tide for the next hour and a half which will be very hard for the boats to make over the ground in that wind strength.

"Then as the tide improves for a very short window the wind is forecast to drop to nothing and then the tide will deteriorate. So the long term future for the day is not good and the current conditions are not sailable. In view of it being a training regatta, Easter Sunday and having had two really good days, let's make a decision and move on."

The prizegiving for the Royal Ocean Racing Club's training regatta and domestic season opener was held at their Cowes clubhouse at 1030 .

Coming away most laden with chocolate was Tony Dickin's crew on the FAST40+ Jubilee, which won straight bullets in IRC Zero.

"The last couple of years in the FAST 40 has helped us to refine how we sail the boat and we're constantly working on little things like sail shapes," said boat captain and pitman Gregg Parker. "It was our first sailing of the year, so it was nice to get out there and tune up. We sailed reasonably well but by no means flawlessly. It wasn't necessarily a performance worthy of straight bullets.

"The race committee did a good job and took some bold decisions. Today we were disappointed not sail, but there was no wind and Stuart needs to be applauded to have made the decision not to race early on."

Yesterday Michael Blair's Cobra overtook Roger Bowden's King 40 sistership Nifty to win IRC One by 14 points to Nifty's 15. Significantly this was also the first event for the new Performance 40 class. Supported by North Sails, Performance 40s must fall within an IRC TCC rating band of 1.070-1.145 (this compares with 1.210 to 1.270 for a FAST40+), hull length of 11.15m-14.1m, DLR 130-200 and maximum draft of 2.65m.

In third and fourth places were two First 40s, Jock Wishart skippering Rob Bottomley's Adventurer out of Sailplane to third place, finishing six points ahead of RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine's La Réponse.

"Friday was a bit of a trial by endurance with all the rain, but that was the same for everyone," said Wishart, using this event as training for June's Commodores' Cup. "We have had a great few days. It is great regatta. We have a bunch of young Scots...."

Perhaps smartest crew was that of James Chalmer's J/35 Bengal Magic which made the call early not to race Easter Sunday having taken the lead after yesterday's four races in IRC Two.

The most impressive display of consistency was once again Sam Laidlaw and his supreme team on the Quarter Tonner Aguila, which claimed straight bullets in IRC Three to win the smallest class for a fourth consecutive year. "It was good racing," said Laidlaw. "Friday was very cold and wet, probably the coldest and wettest we've had in a Quarter Tonner, but yesterday we got in four good races on great courses and it is all good practice. It is great to be back in the boat - we haven't sailed since August." 

Aguila is currently the Quarter Tonner to beat having won the Coutts Quarter Ton Cup in 2017. One of the reasons for her success is having had a consistent crew for the last seven seasons, comprising Brett Aarons, Dan Gohl, Tom Forrester-Coles and Robbie Southwell. "The crew is the key to the whole thing - in the second yesterday, we tore a kite and the crew had the next kite up in probably less than 15 seconds," said Laidlaw.

The next event in the next event in the RORC calendar is the Cervantes Trophy starting on 5 May while the inshore program continues with the Vice Admiral's Cup over 18-20th May.

Published in RORC

Former Cork Corinthian Quarter Ton Cup Champion Jason Losty is lying fifth overall at this weekend's RORC Easter Challenge on the Solent sailing his First 36.7 Altair in the 12–boat IRC Two
division after six races sailed.

Losty is six points off third overall in IRC Two, a class that is dominated after day two by the Irish registered J/35, Bengal Magic and entered by UK Company Knight Build Ltd. Results are here

The Cork Harbour sailor who was victorious in the Quarter Ton Cup in 2014, is Ireland's sole entry in the UK based test event that has produced some chilly conditions for competitors so far.

At yesterday's Easter Challenge post-race debrief at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Cowes clubhouse, coaching legend Jim Saltonstall advised crews that he and the coaching team from North Sails would be examining rules. Today competitors duly obliged, assisted by one of the strongest tides of the year. This caused numerous close encounters; taking boats over the start line early; on to weather marks; one even snagging the race committee boat's anchor chain. Tonight the queue outside the protest room resembles a doctor's waiting room.

For day two of competition there were 6-12 knots of wind, the temperature on the water was just 5°C, but seemed balmy compared to yesterday's Siberian conditions. Stuart Childerley's race management team staged three windward-leewards on the central Solent followed by a round the cans grand finale to get the boats home. Positions are now firming up, especially in the biggest and smallest classes where Tony Dickin's GP42 Jubilee in IRC Zero and Sam Laidlaw's Quarter Tonner Aguila in IRC Three hold straight bullets and will be hard to beat with just Easter Sunday's races left. 

Baraka GP had a better day overhauling the Ker 46 Lady Mariposa to claim second place in IRC Zero. Harmen de Graaf's Dutch team is getting grips with their new boat, although transferring from a GRP Ker 40 to a carbon fibre Ker 43, both of a similar vintage, has made life simpler. "This is a better boat," states de Graaf eldest son, Dirk. "This is carbon, so she accelerates better downwind and she's stiffer."

However they had to mount a strong recovery in today's third race, when, like so many boats today, they were over early.

De Graaf admits they are still on a learning curve. "Today's last race was the first time we had used the Code 0. Yesterday we had to work out how to use the string drop system for the spinnaker (which we didn't have on the old boat). Today we did our first five second drop!" Such systems from the America's Cup, TP52 and Maxi 72 classes harness the pedestal grinder enabling the spinnaker to be rapidly sucked below.

Closest competition this weekend is in IRC One and the newly created Performance 40 class, where Michael Blair's Cobra crew today overtook sistership and nemesis Roger Bowden's Nifty, ending the day one point ahead. Today both scored two bullets, but Nifty lost the lead after scoring a seventh in race two.

Blair said he was surprised to be leading the First 40s where Adventurer out of Sailplane, skippered by Jock Wishart is lying third, six points ahead of RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine's La Réponse. "We thought it was going to be much more difficult against the First 40s. Maybe they will come through in heavy weather."

Competition is also tight in IRC Two, where the crew of Bengal Magic, the 1983 vintage J/35 that competed in the Commodores' Cup two years ago, has made a sterling return after a year out of sailing. "Today was fantastic racing, very close," said skipper James Chalmers. "The second race was so exciting. We got to the weather mark among Jubilee, Cora, Strait Dealer and even Redshift - a proper mark rounding! We were pushed left on the run, but we saw a bit of a gap, popped the gybe in, soaked into the mark, got inside Strait Dealer to win the race. There were only seconds between us."As a result Bengal Magic, that is older than the majority of her crew, has pulled into the lead ahead of Ed Fishwick's Sun Fast 3600 Redshift Reloaded. 

Redshift suffered in today's third race when she and Jubilee were OCS. "We only found out about 30 seconds later, but we did quite a good job to dig ourselves out of it," said tactician Nick Cherry. "It's nice to be one of the bigger boats in our class, as we can get clear lanes. Plus the reaching suited our boat - we'd like more of that." Redshift Reloaded won today's final round the cans race.

Behind the dominant Quarter Tonners in IRC Three, Peter Cyriax and the crew of the S&S43 1965 Admiral's Cupper Firebrand have been getting to grips with the boat that once belonged to the late yacht designer Ed Dubois.

"Today was very pleasant - it didn't rain and it wasn't as miserable. The courses were good. The RORC were working hard to give us sensible courses," said Cyriax, who has been making use of the free coaching on offer. "We have two problems - upwind speed and getting our crew work sorted out."

Whether he will be able to work on this further tomorrow is in the lap of the Gods with light winds forecast prior to a prizegiving where the Easter eggs aplenty will be apportioned across the fleet.

Published in RORC

The Royal Ocean Racing Club has announced the appointment of Tim Thubron to the post of Deputy Racing Manager. Thubron brings to the team a wealth of experience in yacht racing, both as a skipper of successful racing teams whilst working as a professional skipper managing racing and charter yachts, and as the organiser of major events whilst working for his previous employer, the Royal Southern Yacht Club.

Thubron has competed in numerous RORC races both in the UK and abroad and achieved success at National and International level including Cowes Week, Cork Week, Antigua Sailing Week, the Swan European Regatta and, additionally, class wins in the Rolex Swan World Cup, Rolex Fastnet Race, RORC Caribbean 600 and RORC Season's Points Championships.

Whilst at the Royal Southern Yacht Club, Thubron successfully delivered an extensive sailing programme of multiple regattas, club races and major events that included the Match Cup, One Ton Cup, Hamble Classics, J/70 European Championship and J/80 World Championship. He was additionally responsible for managing the club's 60-berth Prince Philip Yacht Haven along with RIB berths, dry sailing berths, dinghies and river pontoons.

Published in RORC

Following its debut as part of Cork Week in 2016 and a stand-alone event held in Marseille in 2017, the IRC European Championship this year will take place out of one of its spiritual homes. Coming to Cowes for the third edition and for the first time in the UK, a record-sized fleet will compete in the 2018 IRC European Championship. It will be one of the most prestigious regattas ever run for IRC, the rating rule created and managed jointly by the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Union Course au Large in France.

The event is open to yachts with IRC TCCs of 0.995-1.270. This equates to Sun Fast 3200, X34s, HOD35 at the smaller end up to FAST 40+s at the top. The fleet will be split into classes, but at the end of the week a single IRC European Champion will be crowned. Last year's winner was the St Tropez-based JPK 10.10 Expresso 2 skippered by Guy Claeys, but perhaps it could be third time lucky for the big boats?

Already FAST40+ yachts including James Neville's Ino XXX and Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe have signed up for the event. RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine and his heavily campaigned First 40, La Réponse will also be on the start line: "The IRC Europeans are completely different to the IRC Nationals because the Nationals have no offshore element, so the Europeans will be a much more intense competition than we normally get. It should make it more attractive to overseas entries especially from France, Belgium, Holland and as far away as the Baltic and will support IRC racing in those areas."
The race format for the IRC Europeans will be a challenging mix of inshores and offshores - similar to that used previously for Commodores' Cups. It will comprise up to 10 inshore races (including windward-leewards, round the cans, some reaching starts, etc), a race around the Isle of Wight (carrying a 1.5x points coefficient) and a 150 nautical mile/30-36 hour offshore race (set in the central Channel to suit the wind direction and strength and coming with a 2x coefficient).

Strong entries are already being fielded by the Netherlands, Denmark and the USA. A strong turn-out is also anticipated from French, given that boats from the south side of the Channel have dominated so many of the RORC's major offshores recently, not only winning the last three Rolex Fastnet Races outright but having the majority of finishers in the top 10 in each too.
Incorporating the Commodores' Cup

France also has a title to defend as the IRC European Championship will this year incorporate the Commodores' Cup, the RORC's biennial event for three boat teams with amateur crews.

To simplify putting teams together, for 2018 the Commodores' Cup has been fully opened up. Boats must comply with the overall IRC TCC limits for the IRC Europeans, but there are no longer any class restrictions for Commodores' Cup boats, nor a requirement for one to be a 'big boat'. Similarly, teams are no longer have to enter the event as nations via their Member National Authority. Instead teams can decide themselves whether they wish to represent a nation or a region or their yacht club or simply three likeminded friends with boats can get together, regardless of their nationalities.

Any boats entering the IRC Europeans can be part of Commodores' Cup teams, however as the Commodores' Cup is a competition for Corinthian crew, boats entering in this will be limited to having one World Sailing categories Group 3 'professional' aboard. The number of pros on board is unrestricted on boats only entering the IRC Europeans.

Andrew McIrvine's La Réponse will be entering the Commodores' Cup once again with a British team: "The Commodores' Cup style of competition has always been very challenging with continuous pressure through the week. To allow a much bigger fleet in the Europeans as well as the team entries in the Commodores' Cup will make the event much more competitive."

Chris Stone, Racing Manager of the RORC added: "With the IRC European Championship coming to Cowes for the first time, we are expecting it to be the most significant events ever held for IRC. That will be very exciting. Plus the format provides a great mix of courses with the inshores in the Solent, the race around the Isle of Wight and the longer offshore. With those mixed courses we will certainly see different boats up front.

Published in RORC

There are many ways to improve your yacht racing: You can practice more, get a better boat and equip it better, with better sails. You can round up more talented crew, maybe even a pro or two. Frequently absent from this list though is coaching: The single feature of a campaign that can consolidate all its parts; the independent set of eyes that can identify where mistakes are being made, plus the advice on how to fast track their correction.

Held over the Bank Holiday weekend (30th March to 1st April), the RORC Easter Challenge is open to all, not just Royal Ocean Racing Club members, and available to all entrants is FREE COACHING.
This comes from several of the most respected coaches including the guru himself, Jim Saltonstall, whose 'ferrets' have included several of Britain's most successful Olympic sailors including Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, etc. Then there is RORC Chief Executive Eddie Warden Owen, a former professional sailor and coach to leading America's Cup teams, notably Team New Zealand. Also back for the umpteenth year is Mason King who aside from his three decades in the Met Police, has for 20 years also been one of the UK's leading Yachtmaster Instructors. Mason is a regular coach for Sailing Logic, which has its First 40, Arthur Logic entered in the RORC Easter Challenge sailed by a crew from J.P. Morgan.

In addition, several top professional sailors and sailmakers from North Sails UK will be on the water to offer the benefit of advice, with of course special focus on sail set-up and trim.

The RORC's new Racing Manager Chris Stone explains the value of coaching: "There is usually not enough time in people's racing programs to see improvement, so any opportunity to have some training together with their race program is a rare opportunity and something that should be taken as it's invaluable. Training should never stop, but far too often it does when there is still so much to learn."

Uniquely for this event, and specifically to aid the on the water coaching, Racing Rule of Sailing 41 (Outside Help) is relaxed. Thanks to this the unimaginable becomes possible: For example a trimmer can hop onto a coach boat to examine sail trim from off the boat which is impossible to do when racing. Equally, a coach can be invited onto a competing yacht to demonstrate to the crew how to fix some issue in person, which is also not possible when racing.

This free coaching is available to all; the RORC's aim simply to help raise the level of UK yacht racing. "This is not something that is just focussed on the sharper end of the fleet - it is focussed on all the fleet regardless of their level," confirms Stone.

However the coaching is optional. To receive it crews competing must register for it with the RORC beforehand, when they can also specify anything they need the coaches to address.

The coaching is not just on the water. The RORC and North Sails are paying for drone footage of the racing to be taken. This are a key part of Friday and Saturday's debriefs, led by Jim Saltonstall, at the RORC Cowes Clubhouse.

Making their way from Brighton to Cowes for the RORC Easter Challenge for a third consecutive year is Andy Williams and the crew of the Max Fun 35, Mad Max. Williams explains of their participation: "We find the crew listen to the coaches much more than they do from us! A great one is weight distribution on the boat. We are forever trying to get the crew to switch on to that and when they hear it from Jim Saltonstall on the water or in the debriefs they listen. Similarly with tips about spinnaker handling. Also for fine sail set it has been a great help. Particularly the North sails guys help you think through that - even though we don't have North Sails!"

Since coming to the RORC Easter Challenge Williams says they have started to see great improvements in their results. "In 2016 we would have been at the back of the fleet and struggling to keep up with some of the local boats. Now we are up with them and we put a huge amount of that down to the benefit of doing the Easter Challenge." This year they will be asking the coaches to address them with coaxing the best VMG downwind out of their A-sail equipped boat.

The Easter Challenge marks the start of one of the most challenging and ambitious seasons for the RORC, including the combined IRC Europeans and Commodores' Cup in the Solent in June and the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race in August.

Racing at the RORC Easter Challenge is run by two time Olympian and two time Etchells World Champion Stuart Childerley on the Solent: Up to three races a day will include windward-leewards, reaching starts and round the cans courses.

Published in RORC

Less than a fortnight after he’d been declared the Afloat.ie/Irish Sailing/Volvo Sailor of the Year 2017 in Dublin, Conor Fogerty of Howth Yacht Club was back on the podium in Antigua, having been declared runaway winner of Class 3 in the RORC Caribbean 600 2018.

Fogerty had experienced exceptionally heavy weather when he achieved his outstanding solo success of 2017 in winning the Gipsy Month Trophy in the OSTAR with his Sunfast 3600 Bam!. But far from being sunlit therapy to counteract memories of that experience, the 2018 sailing of the RORC Caribbean 600 was the toughest yet in all its ten years. However, Fogerty and his crew of Howth clubmates battled on to a huge class win and an exceptionally good overall placing for the second-smallest boat in the fleet in what was undoubtedly a big-boat race.

conor fogertys bam2Conor Fogerty’s Bam! during one of the gentler stages on her way to a very clearcut win in Class 3 in the mostly rough RORC Caribbean 2018

Published in Sailor of the Month

With winter still clinging like a hyper-cold limpet in northern latitudes, the prospect of balmy breezes and warm seas in the tenth annual RORC Caribbean 600 in late February seemed like the perfect prospect for escape and sport writes W M Nixon. After all, Irish sailors look on it with a certain proprietorial pride, with Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners (Royal St George YC) winning the inaugural race overall in 2009.

Sea, sun, scenery and sailing – you have all that guaranteed for starters, even if only to enjoy it vicariously in following the event on many information streams. But then, as the start time approached at 11am local time Antigua on Monday 19th February, the growing entry list indicated an increasingly high quality lineup, with many powerful big boats and a swathe of professional crew.

Yet even if names of legendary fame and achievement were going to be competing, these was still a place for club entries with the necessary amateur experience to send forth crews, either on members’ own boats, or on judiciously-selected charter boats.

The “judicious selection” came in finding boats suitable for a rather specialised cat’s cradle of a course which can include a lot of power reaching, and takes in 11 island in order to have topped the 600-mile mark when the fleet finally returns to the finish line off the southern headlands of Antigua.

rorc caribbean 600 course2The RORC Caribbean 600 – the start and finish is at the south end of Antigua

With every sign that this year’s staging of the race would experience the northeast tradewinds in stonking form, we were encouraged a week ago to predict that George David’s mighty Rambler 88 might repeat her dramatic showing of line honours and a new mono-hull record, just as she did in the Volvo Round Ireland race of 2016.

Well, Rambler 88 did that, and she did it well, knocking more than two hours off the record her predecessor Rambler 100 set in 2011. But then as the rest of the fleet battled the course, it became increasingly likely that the big silver bullet could repeat her astonishing Irish success of the treble – line honours, course record (one day 13 hours and 41 minutes in the case of the Caribbean 600), and IRC overall win.

Several of Rambler 88’s challengers seemed within an ace of it, but the final 35 miles beat from Redonda back to the race’s focal point at the south end of Antigua saw them fail one after another to make the target, until by Wednesday only American Ron O’Hanley’s keenly-campaigned Cookson 50 Privateer – with Kinsale’s Ben Fusco as mastman - was in with a realistic chance, but that also faded on the final windward slugfest.

rambler 88 winning3Trebles all round! Rambler 88 on her way to matching her Round Ireland triple success

It means that overall the Americans have dominated the podium for the top results even if Kinsale has a share of it, with Rambler a clear first, Privateer second, and the Volvo 70 Warrior (Steve & Stephen Murray Snr & Jnr) third. So why then is there a considerable element of RORC Caribbean 600 celebration this weekend on a certain peninsula on Ireland’s East Coast?

Well, the slightest delving into the more detailed class results shows that between them, the National YC in Dun Laoghaire, and Howth Yacht Club on the eastern peninsula, can come up with 1,2,3 in class places, and in an event of the calibre of the RORC Caribbean 600, those are placings which are very special indeed.

The third place (it was in Class 1) came from Irish-American Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, skippered by his son Sean with former Irish college sailing stars Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC in a key role in the crew.

As for the second place, it was also in Class 1 and went to the interesting Marc Lombard designed IRC 46 Pata Negra, chartered by Michael Wright of Howth under the guidance of Kieran Jameson, and crewed by an almost entirely Howth YC team.

pata negra4Marc Lombard’s interesting and stylish design for Pata Negra. There wasn’t a spinnaker left intact when she finished, but she still took a good second in Class 1

And the first place was a peach. It was in Class 3, and went to Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 36 Bam! HYC, which filled the same position in the 2016 race, but has since been away on other business such as winning the east-west Single-Handed Transatlantic Race of 2017. Yet although she was the second-smallest boat in the race, the potent Bam! was by no means the lowest-rated, so she had to work for her placing in conditions which tested everyone.

For it has been something of a Demolition Derby. Of 74 monohull starters, only 40 finished. And while the ten multi-hulls recorded a better finish rate, one of their exits was the most dramatic of all – a capsize by the catamaran Fujin, fortunately without any serious outcome other than one inverted multi-hull, with her crew safely on top, near the island of Saba.

fujin capsizer5She looks better right way up – the catamaran Fujin exited the RORC Caribbbean 600 in spectacular capsize style

While the possibility of such things was always present, the traditional pre-race festivities were special for the Howth contingent, as their own ex-Pat superstar Gordon Maguire arrived in from Australia to race aboard George Sakellaris’s much-fancied Maxi 72 Proteus. That the pre-race betting on Proteus was well-founded seemed justified after the first nine hours, as she narrowly had the overall lead on corrected time coming into the turn at Saba. But then an equipment failure led to her rapid retirement, and that was one favourite down, and others to follow.

michael and gordon6Local boys made good. Michael Wright and Gordon Maguire in Antigua before the start of the RORC Caribbean 600

Last year’s overall winning navigator, Ian Moore, was aboard the German-owned Elliott 52 Outsider, a canting keel entry which certainly looked the part. But as an outsider bet she would have been a disastrous investment, as nothing seemed to be going right from the start, and she retired at the north end of the course.

By that stage, the retirals were coming thick and fast as sails and gear – and maybe crews too - failed the test. But the key Irish boats were hanging in, even if the crew on Pata Negra were going through spinnakers at such an alarming rate that by race’s end they didn’t have a single spinnaker left in the locker.

But the preponderance of miles of power reaching, and the presence of some beats which provided opportunities for sound tactical choices, enabled Pata Negra to offset her lack of downwind sails. In the two final beats – one along the much indented south coast of Guadeloupe, and the other from Redonda to the Antigua finish – it was a pleasure to watch how navigator Colm Birmingham was calling it spot on, reading the shifts to perfection and skillfully using any bit of lee in the shelter of headlands to enable Pata Negra to gain an extra fraction of speed and out-perform much larger boats around her.

pata negra crew7Pata Negra’s crew start the celebrations on their return to Antigua

kieran and sail8Once upon a time, this was a sail – Kieran Jameson with a battle memento from Pata Negra

Heaven only knows how many peninsula people were following the tracker on Thursday afternoon as Pata Negra got within ten miles of the finish, with the mid-day wind at Antigua really getting up a head of steam. And then, with 9 miles to go, her speed was shown as down at 4.3 knots, her heading straight towards the harbour…. Was she disabled and motoring?..... A great collective sigh of relief as the next position showed her back up towards 8 knots and better, fairly thrashing along to the finish and that second place, achieved despite the spinnaker eliminations.

It was all part of a choreographed and slightly emotional series of happenings put together by Brian Turvey, starting with a send-off party for the two crews in Howth YC. That had to be held on February 2nd as the Volvo/Irish Sailing/Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” and “Sailor of the Year” awards were to be held in the RDS the following weekend, Friday February 9th, and after that there was an HYC Achievers Celebration hosted by Commodore Joe McPeake on Saturday 10th February, following which it was Antigua all the way.

kieran and conor9The choreography gets under way. Kieran Jameson and Conor Fogerty at the Caribbean 600 Goodwill Party in Howth YC on February 2nd. Within a week, Conor Fogerty was to become “Sailor of the Year 2017”, and within three weeks they’d recorded a second and first in class in the RORC Caribbean 600. Photo Brian Turvey

But by the time that Achievers Party came around, Conor Fogerty had become “Sailor of the Year” the night before, so he was doubly feted in his home club, and gave a moving little speech in which he frankly admitted that when he bought the boat new in 2015, he hadn’t a clue how to make her go well, but it was the encouragement of fellow Howth members which helped him up from being an also-ran to a winner.

Such thoughts were much in everyone’s mind through Thursday night as Bam! battled up that final beat to the finish, for another of the crews at that early-February party in Howth had been the combined National YC/Malahide YC team of Bernard McGranahan and Dermot Cronin, who were going to off to Antigua to race the J/122 Noisy Oyster, but they’d had to pull out with just 115 miles to sail, a really bad moment for Team Ireland.

But the Bam! supporters concerned about that final beat were heartened by some thoughts voiced in Conor Fogerty’s video from his OSTAR win:

“There you are, out in the ocean in the night in this light little boat in a gale, climbing up the side of a big sea that seems to go on up for ever in the darkness, and then you shoot out the top and become airborne for what seems a lifetime, and you’ve time to think that there’s no way this little plastic thing is going to survive hitting that very hard bit of water way down in the bottom of the trough, and then comes the crash which surely nothing can survive….but she does, she does survive without splitting open. And then she picks herself up, and just sails on, climbing the next mini-mountain that you know is right there in the dark”.

bam redonda10Bam! and Liquid with a serious turning mark, the steep and deserted rock of Redonda. Photo RORC/Tim Wright

bam in sunshine11Nearly there. Bam! at Redonda, with just 35 miles to go – but it’s going to be a dead beat. Photo RORC/Tim Wright

Set against that, the Redonda to Antigua beat was a walk in the park. But Bam! fans fretted until their boat was safely home around 4.30 am our time yesterday morning, and then it was time to relax and savour the moment. As for the Howth crews who have done the job and given their club such credit, aboard Pata Negra they were: Michael Wright, Kieran Jameson, Darren Wright, Colm Bermingham, Johnny White, Karena Knaggs, Sam O’Byrne, Ronan Galligan, Emmet Sheridan and Richard Cullen.

Aboard Bam!, in addition to skipper Conor Fogerty there was Simon Knowles and Anthony Doyle from the 2016 win, and the other three were Rob Slater, Robert Rendell and Damian Cody.

Here it is, still February, and they’ve had a season’s sailing and success already. It certainly blows away those winter blues.

bam final beat12They’re absolutely knackered, but there’s still work to be done – the reefed Bam settles down for the final beat to Antigua. Photo: RORC/Tim Wrigh

Bam crewThe Bam! crew roll out the banner dockside in Antigua....

Published in W M Nixon

It was a nail-biter to the very end writes W M Nixon. It was around half an hour before midnight local time last night off the south coast of Antigua when the lights of Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 finally appeared out of the velvet dark of the Caribbean night to cross the finishing line in the tenth RORC Caribbean 600.

After a final boat-breaking, man-breaking 35 mile beat into the strong nor’easters from the last turn at the little island of Redonda. the Howth skipper and his completely amateur crew had got to the finish and secured his second Caribbean 600 win in Class 3, the other being in 2016.

By doing so, in a race which very emphatically favoured big professionally-sailed boats, he corrected into 13th overall, well ahead of any boat of comparable size. He also corrected into one place ahead of clubmate Michael Wright in the IRC 46 Pata Negra, who nevertheless was firmly ensconced in second overall in Class 1.

And in 16th overall was Irish-American Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, her crew including the National YC’s Will Byrne and Chris Raymond, and she in turn was securely placed in 3rd overall in Class 1. Class places of 1,2, and 3 for Irish hopes. Not a bad trawl for a big boat race dominated by pros.

We’ll have a fuller analysis of it in tomorrow’s “Sailing on Saturday”, meanwhile here’s the Race Tracker again here.

Published in RORC
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