Flanders has entered July's Commodore's Cup. The continental North Sea coast team has signed up today in a further expansion of the Cup's reach. It is the latest news for a reformatted 2016 competition. There is no information so far on an Irish team (or teams), other than the Irish Cruiser Racer Association has said it hopes to send two teams to the Solent.
Up against powerful multiple team entries from France and Britain in July's Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, will be the newly announced Flanders Nord team. This will comprise three leading race boats from the continental North Sea coast: Frans Rodenburg's Elke from the Netherlands, Philippe Bourgeois' Dunkerque - Les Dunes de Flandre from northeasternmost France and François Goubau's well-travelled Moana from Belgium.
While the large British and French contingent is a little daunting, the Flanders team can relax slightly in the knowledge the defending champion, Ireland, won with a single team in 2014. Plus, many of the crew in the Flanders Nord team have past experience of the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup.
Heavyweight of Flanders Nord, with what could be the longest boat competing this year, is François Goubau's 2001 generation Beneteau First 47.7, Moana. Goubau, who is Commodore of the Royal Belgian Sailing Club, has campaigned Moana in three previous Commodores' Cups, first with the Belgium team in 2002 and most recently with Team Benelux in 2012.
"We like the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup because its organisation is very professional and the level of competition is so high," says Moana's trimmer/tactician Luc Geirnaert. He adds that they also enjoy the unique 'team' aspect to the event and try to make a point of racing in the Solent at least once each season.
In addition to the Commodores' Cup, Moana has competed in eight Rolex Fastnet Races, won her class at Cowes Week, has twice been victorious in the Dutch IRC National Championship and its Belgium equivalent and was runner up at the 2012 UK IRC Nationals - "after a stupid false start in the last race," as Geirnaert remembers.
A typical Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup entry, Moana is a family affair and sailing on board with père Goubau, will be his wife Michèle Gelhausen and trio of sons Laurent, Mathieu and Alexis plus a group of friends. While the rules for this year's event have been amended slightly from 2014, now allowing up to six professionals (World Sailing Group 3 sailors) to compete across each three boat team (rather than one or two on each boat), Moana will be sailing with no pros on board.
"Our team is delighted to race the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup again," says skipper Philippe Bourgeois. "We are the 'southener' of the Flanders team, but it was a great pleasure to accept he proposition of Mathieu and François Goubau to be part of this Flanders team with Belgium and Netherlands boats."
Already there is some crossover between the Dunkerque-Les Dunes de Flandres and Moana teams with several Dunkerque crew having raced on Moana in past Fastnet races and in the 2012 Commodores' Cup.
If Moana is the Flanders team's 'big boat', Bourgeois' competitive Archambault A35, will be its 'small boat'. Bourgeois congratulates the RORC for responding to competitor feedback from the last race by providing the smaller boats (ie with an IRC TCC of 1.000-1.049) with their own starts at this year's regatta.
"We do like racing in the Solent," continues Bourgeois. "The Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup is a great event, very well organised and with high level competitors."
Prior to the event, Dunkerque-Les Dunes de Flandres will be back in the UK for the RORC's Myth of Malham Race in which she won her class in 2013 and for the UK IRC Nationals at end of June. "They will be a good training for our crew for our big event this season - the Commodores' Cup," concludes Bourgeois.
The third boat in the Flanders Nord team is Frans Rodenburg's First 40, Elke. Last year Elke competed in the North Sea Race and in the Rolex Fastnet Race, and is making her Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup debut this summer.
Welcoming the Flanders Nord team to the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen said: "This is a good team. Moana we know from previous Commodores' Cups is very well sailed and knows the waters; Dunkerque-Les Dunes de Flandres was very competitive at the recent RORC Easter Challenge and we know the First 40 is a good all round performer, so they will be a good team to watch and we are delighted to have them announce their commitment so early."
Organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup is the club's biennial grand prix for amateur crews. Racing takes place over 23rd-30th July on a mix of inshore and offshore courses in the Solent and around the English Channel.