Playing the numbers – Cork Week 2008
(reprinted from Afloat September/October 2008)
Both on and off the water, it's the numbers that make Cork Week what it is. Louay Habib explains the math of Ireland's premier regatta, and how some things no longer add up
Dan Meyers’ aptly-named 66ft IRC weapon, Numbers, did ACC Bank Cork Week in style. As one of the glamour yachts, Numbers enhanced her status by being tethered to a 170-foot mothership, the schooner Meteor, and renting the grand dwelling of Crosshaven House for a little bit of extra room for crew and guests. The name ‘Numbers’ might well have referred to the lengthy digits written in on the owner’s cheque book.
Pictured left – Aerial photograph of the Class Zero and IRC 45 fleet. Photos: Bob Bateman/Ingrid Abery
The Numbers crew, like the rest of Cork Week’s visitors, were blessed with excellent sailing weather – a variety of wind strengths over the week coming mainly from the south west.
Although a huge wind shift on day one turned some races inside out, there were few complaints about the conditions.
What’s more, the rain fell, for the most part, either side of the event rather than in the middle, giving a huge boost to the social side of the regatta which was extremely well run. The large number of bands and DJs in every tent were exceptional, catering for a wide variety of tastes.
I can safely say I have never been to a regatta with such professional and highly organised entertainment.
On the water, Cork displayed one of its true assets as a sailing location: the variety or ‘number’ of courses that can be laid on.
Inside the harbour, tight courses around the cans test crew work and navigational skills to the maximum. Along the coastal route, tidal effects and wind effects from the land conspire to produce tactical courses along a magnificent backdrop.
And offshore, sea state comes into play with the Atlantic swell producing some dramatic surfing conditions.
However, it has to be said that race management was not on a par with the excellent administration in 2006. Some competitors found that their harbour race had become a seven-mile windward-leeward course outside the harbour and sometimes resetting of courses took far too long, much to the frustration of competitors.
This problem is not confined to ACCBank Cork Week, it must be said.
Many regattas rely on volunteers to carry out race management duties and, harsh as it may be to say, the standard is often simply not good enough, especially at the big boat level, where professional sailors deserve equally professional organisation.
Good volunteers are a precious commodity and deserve to be heaped with praise for their efforts, but at the top level sailors throughout the world are clamouring for a professional race management team to travel from regatta to regatta and provide top-quality racing.
Overall, the numbers were down at ACC Bank Cork Week, with about 380 yachts making it to the event, down from the heyday of more than 600 boats. When you consider that the final number includes 40 SB3s, a class that has sprung up from nothing since the last Cork Week in 2006, that is a significant drop in cruiser/racers. Difficult delivery conditions in the days preceding the event prevented a few yachts from competing, but that couldn’t account for the falloff on its own.
Pictured above: One of the many cruise liners to visit Cobh berthed at the Deep Water Quay. The ship provided an interesting backdrop for the Class 2 boats in the harbour race
Having said that, it’s not too many years since Cork could expect 70 to 80 Sigma 33s and up to 40 Sigma 38s holding their nationals at the event. These classes have declined in numbers and this has had a knock-on effect here.
A common consensus from the competitors was that with a strong euro and a weak world economy, competitors from USA and Britain found Cork Week’s entry fees and the cost of accommodation prohibitive.
Professional Hit – The Fool’s Gold incident in Cork shows how using IASF rules to vet ‘professionals’ can result in bizarre outcomes
Cork Week’s roots lie in the everyman, Corinthian principle that the event is for the amateur and the amateur alone.
The tokens of Class Super Zero, Class Zero and the one-design fleets are tossed to those who want to deal with the pros, but the lion’s share of handicap racing is exclusively amateur, and professionals are banned.
One incident from this year’s event shines a light on the grey area inhabited by the peripheral sailor, the quasi-professional who might not be there to sit at the back and whisper tactical sweet nothings, but nonetheless earns his living from sailing and sailboat racing.
Category 3 sailors are not permitted in the amateur classes at Cork Week. A Category 3 sailor is defined as someone who is paid to prepare either a boat or a team for an event, and then competes in that event, or with that team.
A Category 1 sailor, meanwhile, is someone who does not sail for money, and whose work ‘does not require knowledge or skill capable of contributing to the performance of a boat’.
The area between the two would seem to catch a lot of people linked to the industry who derive their income from sailing and who, while not considered professional sailors, might be seen as sailing professionals. Chandlers, boat dealers, charter operators, sailing gear agents, and the like. Even yachting journalists, or your common-or-garden club instructor could, technically, be caught out by the letter of the law.
Waterford’s Rob McConnell was the most high-profile victim caught out by the rule this year. A former Olympic 49er campaigner, McConnell entered Cork Week as a category one amateur, as skipper of his own Archambault 35, Fool’s Gold.
McConnell is also the Irish dealer for Archambault, newly-anointed, and with his crew found himself in second position with one day to go, within shooting distance of the win and clear of the third place boat.
But McConnell was also within range of the protest committee, and found himself facing an ISAF official on the eve of the last day’s racing due to a query over his status.
The protest, incidentally, came from a former employee of a Dublin-based boat dealer, who had sat out several Cork Weeks due to his category until he changed his employment status.
“I sat down with a guy in ISAF to decide what my category would be next year,” said McConnell, “and he decided that it would be category three.”
“I was given the choice to protest it, which would mean a Rule 69 if I lost, or else retire gracefully and that’s what I did.”
For McConnell and crew, it meant that they would have to count their races to date as RET, with McConnell forced off the boat for the last day’s racing.
The Fool’s Gold crew went out to compete for what could only amount to a pyrrhic victory, and took with them Tom Fitzpatrick as helm – the most bizarre twist of all. Fitzpatrick guided them to a final race win, which would have clinched the event for them had the previous races been counted.
“If you think about it, I’ve been racing against Tom all my life,” said McConnell.
“Tom’s been beating me all my life. Tom is an infinitely better sailor than I am – a different league.
“If Tom’s not a category three, and he’s not because he’s not paid for it, then surely I’m not a category three. It’s meaningless.”
Fitzpatrick, a former Olympian, coach and multiple national title holder, admitted that the rule had not fulfilled its intention.
“I was able to sub in, being a former pro, so by removing a categorised pro and subbing me in maybe they made the boat go faster, so they didn’t really achieve their objective.
“I play to the rules,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’m not going to whinge if they put a rule in that they don’t like, but his [McConnell’s] work doesn’t contribute to making a boat go faster.”
McConnell said he contacted the race committee three days before the event to query his status but was told that he could remain as a Category 1 sailor without issue.
While hugely disappointed, not least for his crew who had put in such an effort, McConnell bore no malice to the organisers who gave him the flick.
“Anthony O’Leary had his arm around me going: ‘Kid, you don’t really have a choice here.
If you made a ten grand donation to the RNLI, I still couldn’t do anything about it.’ Cork Week themselves were very good about it.”
The incident raises the question once again as to whether or not the ISAF classifications are the right way to vet amateurs and sieve out the professionals.
The large Corinthian events will have to look at the Fool’s Gold incident and ask themselves whether or not the hobbyist who works in the sailing industry deserves to be able to sail unfettered in the big events of the season, or be forced to keep a professional distance.