No matter what Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta organisers did it was never going to be easy to get a quart into a pint pot. Tomorrow's first race will now see 33% of all competing IRC boats in class one. It's the creation of a 'super class' for the biennial regatta, a sign of the popularity of this size of boat.
It will be the test of the season as class one boats gather from across Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales for the VDLR 'Cruisers One' crown. Ironically, the only boats missing – in a who's who line-up of talent – are the winners of May's Scottish Series (J109, Storm, Pat Kelly) and last month's Sovereign's Cup (A35, Fools Gold, Rob McConnell). Read the full IRC one entry list below.
Just how to manage the class breaks in such an impressive but diverse IRC fleet has been occupying the minds of the VDLR committee and its Director of Racing, Con Murphy, an Olympic Games Race Officer from Rio, for some time.
Last week Afloat.ie stuck its neck out on the thorny subject and gave some predictions on class splits and prospective winners. You can read those predictions here.
Afloat.ie pointed to the possibility of moving boats from the very big class one line-up into class zero as a means of dealing with a class double the size of the other IRC classes.
An amendment to the Notice of Race (NOR) published on Monday, however, shows the regatta has instead introduced a sixth IRC class.
'We've ended up with six distinct groups that are of similar speed, rather than six evenly sized fleets', Murphy told Afloat.ie who admits that it has been a vexed question.
It's a move that at first glance seems unnecessary because 88 IRC boats should fit into five classes but it has come about largely as a consequence of the popularity of boats in and around 33–36 feet length and a desire on the part of the J109 fleet to race under IRC rather than as a one design class.
The net result is VDLR 2017 will set sail with a 'super class' by combining 15 mainly race orientated, well sailed and crewed various designs (JPK 10.80, Corby 33's, Archambault 35's, XP33s, Ker and Mills custom yachts) and then adding to it an uber–competitive 14 x J109 fleet.
VDLR had bowed to the agm–wishes of a 14-strong Dublin Bay J109 fleet as far back as January to allow them race in IRC class one as opposed to a separate class as they had done previously in 2015.
It's been no easy job striking the balance and Murphy has consulted far and wide in trying to reach an equitable solution.
Among the lobbyists, Scottish entries argued against some of their boats being moved into class zero. At May's Scottish Series this 'RC35' group had its own class with four boats from Ireland (including an Irish J109 winner) and the racing was tight and competitive. Having a restricted handicap of 1.015 to 1.040 has encouraged tight, competitive racing and has seen four new owners buy boats to fit into this banding.
If there is a split at VDLR, the new Scottish class argued, it will 'dilute our class and our campaign to encourage its development.'
In correspondence seen by Afloat.ie, other skippers argued, however, that class one's higher rated yachts (of 1.045) will make racing 'grossly unfair' as such boats will get 'clear air off the start line while the balance of the relatively level rated fleet will fight for clear air throughout the race and arrive at marks in unison. Meanwhile, the faster boats 'get richer', one Dublin Bay skipper pointed out.
The problem for Murphy is that the bottom of class one fleet is all J109s so there is 'nobody left to move down to class two'. There is a big gap between 1.045 and class zero so moving such boats into class zero would give them 'poor racing'.
If VDLR did move to split class one, it would leave the J109s racing with just one other class one type yacht.
To say the least, the question has put the organisers between a rock and a hard place.
In one sense, of course, it's a good problem to have because so many other regattas these days have been scratching around looking for entries.
As an additional consideration for organisers, this year's VDLR programme will also feature more racing, up to three races per day, so there is a big onus on VDLR to keep fleets together in order to turn races around quickly.
The net result is VDLR 2017 will now have 29 of the 88 boats in class one, that's 33% of all competing IRC boats.
It's an imbalance that admittedly could have unintended consequences for class zero, one and two racing that are racing on the same courses.
For example, how do you set proper lines when class zero will start with five boats and, on the same line, class one will start with 29?
Do they make the line too small for the big class? Or if they make it the right length for the larger class, it will be huge (estimated at 400 metres) for the small class, thus allowing boats that don't start well, the chance to get great starts. It's something Murphy acknowledges and as a means of dealing with the issue he will be using pin end committee boats instead of a buoy to facilitate the setting of the suitably long line for the big class one.
'We plan to set appropriately long start lines and 1.5 mile or longer first beats for the fleet to help reduce bunching at marks'
Equally, Murphy is also investigating the possibility of tying to put in a shorter line for the smaller zero fleet but that will be a tricky thing to achieve within the starting sequence timeframe.
Boat of the Regatta
Another consequence might be its affect on one of the great VDLR traditions and that is its popular 'overall yacht of the week' prize. It's a prestigious award, especially this year when drawn from a total fleet of a near record entry of 473 entries.
How can someone be expected to dominate such a competitive class as class one when it is likely another eight or nine boat classes may produce a dominating boat? It's a factor for organisers to consider because the status of the regatta is diminished if IRC classes are not in the running for this top prize.
Class two and three
Moving down the bands, there are now 17 boats in class two yet only nine in class three. It is, perhaps, a reasonable question to ask why these two classes cannot be combined to make it a 26–boat fleet? If VDLR did this, the spread between the fastest boat and slowest boat would be 57 points. In class one, as they have it now, the spread between fastest and slowest is 50 points.
The answer, says Murphy, after extensive consultation, is that class three is largely made up of vintage –yet modified – Half–Tonners and it is 'unfair to put them with modern class two yachts' because of potential speed differentials.
Racing gets under way tomorrow afternoon.
Cruiser Class One – The Entries
Animal Royal Northern and Clyde YC GBR3627L First 36.7 1.021 Kevin Aitken
Banshee Clyde Cruising Club GBR9470R Corby 33 1.040 Charlie Frize
Bon Exemple Royal Irish Yacht Club GBR8933R X-Yachts 1.017 Colin Byrne
Carmen II Helensburgh Sailing Club IRL1666 First 36.7 1.019 Alan Jeffrey
Ruth National Yacht Club IRL1383 J109 1.015 Shanahan Family
Something Else National Yacht Club IRL29213 J109 1.011 John Hall
Chimaera Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL2160 J109 1.015 Andrew Craig
Jalapeno National Yacht Club IRL5109 J109 1.014 Paul Barrington
Jigamaree Royal Irish Yacht Club IR7991 J109 1.011 Ronan Harris
Joker 2 Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL1206 J109 1.013 John Maybury
Juggerknot Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL3660 J109 1.017 Andrew Algeo
Jump The Gun Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL1129 J109 1.012 John Kelly
Indecision Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL9898 J109 TBA Declan Hayes
Powder Monkey 2 National Yacht Club IRL28898 J109 1.009 Christopher Moore
D-Tox Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL13500 X 35 1.043 Patrick McSwiney
Gringo National Yacht Club Irl 7778 A 35 1.023 Anthony Fox
Impostor South Caernarvonshire YC GBR7377 Corby 33 1.035 Richard Fildes
Jacob VII Port Edgar IRL3307 Corby 33 1.039 John Stamp
Now or Never 3 Fairlie Yacht Club GBR7667R MAT 1010 1.032 Neill Sandford
Prima Luce Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL3504 First 35 1.017 Patrick Burke
Raptor Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL811 Mills 30CR 1.013 Denis Hewitt
Rockabill VI Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL10800 JPK 10.80 1.048 Paul O’Higgins
Thalia National Yacht Club IRL733 Sigma 400 1.035 Aubrey Leggett
Triple Elf Clyde Cruising Club FRA37296 Beneteau First 35 1.020 Christine Murray
Valkerie Liverpool Yacht Club GBR7031T Ker 31 1.027 Austin Harbison
White Mischief Royal Irish YC/National YC GBR1242R J109 1.010 Richard Goodbody
Wavetrain Greystones Sailing Club IRL 1477 Channel 32 1.014 Frank Whelan