As soon as Howth's Wave Regatta ends next Monday, Ireland's sole entry in the IRC European Championships heads for Cowes on the Isle of Wight where the Waterford A35 Fools Gold skippered by Rob McConnell is flying the flag for ICRA interests.
The Irish yacht will be hoping for a repeat of the success of Royal Cork's Paul Gibbons, when the Cork Harbour sailor had an IRC Euros class win at the inaugural event, staged as part of Cork Week in 2016.
As Afloat.ie reported previously, the McConnell, a Welsh IRC and Sovereign's Cup champion, has moved to Howth to begin training for the IRC European Championships at Cowes and Wave Regatta will be their final event before heading south.
"Wave Regatta fits in well with our season and preparation for the European Championships just one week later," said Rob McConnell, Fool's Gold skipper. "We'll be based on the East Coast and looking forward to good, competitive racing at Howth", he told Afloat.ie
As part of the Fools Gold crew, sailmaker Graham Curran will be trimming aboard Rob McConnell's A 35, Fools Gold, which was the overall winner of the 2017 Sovereigns Week. Fools Gold then goes on to Compete in the IRC Worlds in the Hague in Holland in August.
Anorher sailor in Cowes is pro Mark Mansfield who will sail in the IRC Europeans in Cowes as Tactician on John Smart's J109, Jukebox. Mansfield then moves on a few days later to do the same role on Paul Gibbons Quarter Tonner, Anchor Challenge at the Quarter Ton Cup in Cowes.
Yachts from across Europe are gathering in Cowes for the start of IRC European Championship on Sunday 10 June. This is the third running of the annual championship for RORC and UNCL's jointly developed IRC rating system, but the first in IRC's spiritual home, following events in Cork and Marseille. To celebrate this, the 2018 IRC European Championship will be the most challenging yet, with a week-long format, mixing both inshore and offshore racing, including a long offshore of 24-36 hours duration and a race around the Isle of Wight.
While the bulk of the fleet is from the UK, with Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe and James Neville's Ino XXX the highest-rated competing, others are making the trip from further afield.
Chasing the FAST 40+ yachts around the course will be Yigit Cula's Ker 41 Anything - all the way from Turkey - and the globetrotting Selma Racing, skippered by Artur Skrzyszowski from Poland. This Reichel Pugh 41 has already campaigned as far afield as the Rolex Fastnet Race, Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland, Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and Rolex Middle Sea.
"We are building a competitive team that will be capable of winning races in the future," explains Skrzyszowski. "The goal of the Selma Racing Foundation is to inspire, promote and support Polish sailors in offshore racing. The team is made up of skilled sailors with racing backgrounds as well as novices and amateurs with experience in offshore racing, Olympic classes, match racing, and also expedition sailing to Antarctica and Cape Horn."
While Tokoloshe and Ino XXX will be match racing their way around the front of the fleet, a similar one-on-one battle will be taking place between the two Turkish-built Mark Mills-designed MAT 1180s - Tor McLaren's Gallivanter and from the US, Christian Zugel's Tschuss.
The competition will also be lively between the Performance 40s, the newly-created class for boats with an IRC TCC of 1.070-1.145, 11.15m-14.1m hull length, the displacement-length ratio of 130-200 and draft of <2.65m.
Here Roger Bowden's King 40 Nifty is likely to lead the field on the water, while there will be the usual nip and tuck between a posse of First 40s - from the Netherlands, Frans and Carla Rodenburg's Elke, Alex and Andy Moore's TiLT Racing, the team on Rob Bottomley's Adventurer and La Réponse of Royal Ocean Racing Club Admiral Andrew McIrvine. The Performance 40s will also include regular Commodores' Cup competitor Roderick Stuart and Bill Ram's Corby 37 Aurora from Scotland.
A number of the most powerful entries will be coming from France and most are very familiar names in RORC racing. This includes three time Commodores' Cup competitor Emmanuel Le Men and his Val Andre Yacht Club crew on board the First 40.7 Pen Koent. Then there are three JPK 1080s: Most prominent is Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret's Dream Pearls that dominated IRC Three in last year's RORC Seasons Points Championship. No less potent are Marc Alperovitch's Timeline and Jean-Eudes Renier's Shaitain being campaigned by Jock Wishart.
While the majority of the competitors in the IRC Europeans know the waters of the Solent and Channel well, some are new to it. Michael Mollmann and his Danish crew on their X-37 Hansen are one. This 14-year-old campaign is a regular at the ORC World Championship. For the first time this year's World Championship in The Hague is being jointly scored under both ORC and IRC. Aside from coming to the Solent to race "somewhere new", Mollann says they are using the Europeans to find out how their X-37 performs under IRC.
Incorporating the Commodores' Cup
The Commodores' Cup, Royal Ocean Racing Club's biennial event between three boat Corinthian teams, will take place within the IRC European Championship this year.
To help ensure this works, the club has lifted almost all of the rating and entry restrictions. For example, there are now no rating bands into which each of the three boats must fall. Neither does one of three having to be a 'big boat'. Equally, teams now no longer have to represent a nation or a region.
Simply put - any three boats of any size from any nation can form a team. They can represent the same nation, the same region, the same club or they can just be three boats from different countries, whose like-minded owners feel they can race as a competitive team. Any three boats entered in the IRC Europeans can form a team. The only limitation on Commodores' Cup entries is that their crew can only include one World Sailing Group 3 'professional' (the number of pros is unlimited on IRC Europeans boats not competing in the Commodores' Cup). One of the strongest Commodores' Cup teams is likely to be the British trio of Andrew McIrvine's First 40 La Réponse, Ed Fishwick's Sun Fast 3600 Redshift Reloaded and 'boat of the moment', the JPK 1180 Sunrise, recently acquired by Tom Kneen.
So why is the Commodores' Cup special? Aside from its long, illustrious history dating back to when the US team of Don Smith's Falcon, Oliver Woodhouse Grin's Collaboration and Peter Gordon's Gaucho won the first event in 1992, the event is a rarity.
As RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine explains: "The Commodores' Cup remains the only team event in the world left for Corinthian sailors. It is a particularly intensive week of both inshore and offshore racing, which is unusual these days. It is a very tough competition, particularly between the UK and France. I am very much looking forward to this intensity."